Friday, December 14, 2018


Father Thomas Conway – 
the Last Chaplain to Die in World War II

Father Thomas Conway was born on April 5, 1908, in Waterbury, Connecticut, the eldest of three children. Conway enrolled in Our Lady of Angels Seminary on June 8, 1931, and was ordained into the Catholic Priesthood on May 26, 1934. On September 17, 1942, he enlisted in the U. S. Navy and joined the crew of the ill-fated USS Indianapolis on August 25, 1944.

Conway was onboard the Indianapolis when it struck by Japanese torpedoes in the early hours of July 30, 1945. The ship sank in twelve minutes. When help finally arrived, there were only 316 survivors of the 890 sailors who made it off the ship.

For three nights Fr. Conway swam to the aid of his shipmates, reassuring them with prayers until he himself expired, the last Catholic chaplain to die in WWII.

Capt. Lewis Haynes, the Indianapolis‘ medical doctor paid tribute to Fr. Conway’s faith and heroism which was published in a 1955 edition of The Saturday Evening Post: “we have found one comfort — a strong belief to which we cling. God seems very close. Much of our feeling is strengthened by the chaplain, who moves from one group to another to pray with the men. The chaplain, a priest, is not a strong man physically, yet his courage and goodness seemed to have no limit.”

Father Conway continues to be remembered and honored, especially in his hometown with a memorial Mass on his birthday and with holy cards. In 2015 the Waterbury Veterans installed a memorial to him on the basilica’s grounds.

On a personal note, Albert Ferguson, CMM USN, was one of the final survivors of the USS Indianapolis sinking. I knew “Bert” (as he was known among family and friends) through my life-long friendship with his son, Jeff Ferguson. On our first meeting, I noticed Bert’s commemorative Indianapolis belt buckle. Nearly stammering, I asked him if he was an Indianapolis survivor, which he confirmed. Bert will always have a place of honor in my heart.

A statue in Waterbury, Connecticut, depicts Father Thomas Conway
in the ocean aiding a drowning sailor after the USS Indianapolis
was torpedoed in 1945. (Photo courtesy of Bob Dorr)

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