Honoria Conway

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Honoria Conway s.c.i.c.

Honoria Conway (June 18, 1815-May 27, 1892) is recognized as foundress of the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception in St John, New Brunswick. Although she was born at Dover Castle in England, her family was Welsh-Irish and she spent her early years at Ballinasloe, Ireland. In 1837 she and her mother immigrated to America and settled eventually in Metegan, Nova Scotia. At age 37 she entered the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul at Mount St. Vincent, New York. It is uncertain whether she entered with the intention of returning to Saint John to work with Bishop Thomas Louis Connolly, who had begun a number of initiatives on behalf of poor immigrants, or whether she intended to remain in New York.

In any case, in 1854 Bishop Connolly of Saint John spoke to the novitiate of the Sisters of Charity in New York to appeal for help with a poor population that included many recent immigrants who had left Ireland because of the Great Famine. In addition, a cholera epidemic in the summer of 1854 had left many children orphans; the bishop was concerned about their care.

Honoria Conway and three companions traveled from New York to New Brunswick and, on October 21,1854, made their vows as Sisters of Charity of Saint John, a new diocesan religious congregation. At the time of this move, it is possible that Honoria was still a novice; she had been in New York for about a year. In accordance with custom of the times regarding diocesan religious, the bishop appointed the superior. He appointed Honoria. Within a few years, she began to service as Novice Mistress as well. Despite her relative youth, it seems she was well suited by ability and temperament for fulfilling dual roles.

Mother Honoria was responsible for beginning what was to be a prodigous network of educational and social services in the city. During her generalate, which ended in 1862, the community opened a school in northwestern New Brunswick at Sainte-Basile du Madawaska (1857) and opened a convent at Fredericton (1858).

Her generalate ended in 1862. Mother Honoria died at St. Vincent's Convent and is buried in the old St. Mary's Cemetery in Saint John. After her death, her nephew Charles Francis Donnelly composed at sonnet, published in a small book of his poetry:

Proud Dover's castle thundered a salute

Of victory and vanquished France bowed low.

Then came the hush of peace to friend and foe -

And, then, while the embrasured fort stood mute

A child was born within, the blessed fruit

Of sacramental love, silent, to grow

To womanhood, and missioned to bestow

Sweet Charity; nor kin nor creed to moot.

And so she grew, and wafted to our shore

In modest preparation sought her way

To serve the Lord; nun-vestured then went forth

Among the poor, and blessings scattered while she bore

Herself with saintly mien; till came the day

When, summoned home, she upward passed from earth.

Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception

Immigrants, Cholera and the Saint John Sisters of Charity - The first ten years of the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception by by Sister Estella Kennedy, s.c.i.c.