Born: 1572, New Ross, County Wexford
Entered: 22 July 1592, Coimbra, Portugal - Lusitaniae province (LUS)
Ordained: 1600, Salamanca, Spain
Professed: 06 January 1613
Died: 01 December 1626, Irish College, Seville, Spain - Baeticae Province (BAE)
Studied 3 years Arts and 2 of Theology at Coimbra before Entry
1603 At Salamanca has 3 years Philosophy and 4 years Theology and is a Confessor
1612 in Compostella where he wrote an account of O’Devaney’s in Ireland martyrdom from an eyewitness
1614 At Madrid College
1617 In Province of Castellanae
1622 Rector of Irish College Seville
1624 At Madrid, Prefect of College
◆ Fr Edmund Hogan SJ “Catalogica Chronolgica”:
He was a Rector and a great promoter of the Irish Colleges in Spain; Writer;
He was zealous and pious.
He was tied to a tree by robbers and miraculously freed by the Blessed Virgin Mary and his Angel Guardian (cf Foley’s Collectanea)
◆ Fr Francis Finegan SJ:
Son of Patrick and his wife née White
Studied Humanities at Irish College Lisbon 1589/1590 before Ent 22 July 1592 at Coimbra
After First Vows was sent to Spain for studies, to Montforte for Philosophy and Royal College Salamanca for Theology and was Ordained there 1600.
From the completion of his studies until the end of his life he was destined to play an important part in the organisation and support of the Irish Colleges of Salamanca, Santiago, and Seville.
1600-1608 At Salamanca as Spiritual Father but frequently filled in as vice-Rector during the many absences of Thomas White, who was constantly travelling seeking alms for the College,
1608-1613 Rector Irish College Salamanca
1613-1618 Appointed Rector of Irish College Santiago
1619-1622 First Rector of new Irish College Seville - lent to BAE
1622-1625 Freed from Seville to organise the finances of the Irish Colleges from the procurator's office at Madrid.
1625 Appointed Rector of Seville again and died in Office 01 December 1626
Richard Conway, it can ·be justly claimed, was one of the most eminent of Irish Churchmen of the seventeenth century. Under his prudent guidance for over a quarter of a century the three Irish Colleges under the control of the Jesuits in Spain sent forth to the Mission in their home country an army of splendidly trained priests prepared with knowledge and animated by zeal to maintain the Catholic faith in all its purity amongst their countrymen.
◆ Royal Irish Academy : Dictionary of Irish Biography, Cambridge University Press online :
by Terry Clavin
Conway, Richard (1572–1626), Jesuit, was born in New Ross, Co. Tipperary, son of Patrick Conway; nothing is known of his mother. In 1590 he travelled to Lisbon and studied humanities at the Irish college there. On 22 July 1592 he was received into the Jesuit noviciate at Coimbra. After completing his noviceship at Coimbra, he studied philosophy at Monterey in Spain (1595–8) and theology at Salamanca. Highly regarded by his superiors, he was ordained in 1600 at Salamanca and was preacher and confessor there (1600–08). From 1605 he was often acting rector of the college, as the rectors were frequently absent raising funds. Conway also went on fund-raising missions for the college and became close to influential figures at the royal court and elsewhere. His skill at tapping wealthy benefactors for money facilitated his appointment as rector of the Irish college at Salamanca on 6 May 1608.
By 1608 Conway had been made procurator of the Irish mission. This was an important but burdensome office, which involved variously arranging correspondence between the Jesuits in Ireland and Rome, providing travel expenses for Jesuit novices studying abroad, advising Irish exiles who went to Spain, and promoting the interests of the Irish seminaries at the royal court in Madrid. Further, in the years following the conclusion of the Nine Years War in Ireland in 1603, large numbers of Irish refugees began arriving in Spain, and Conway was heavily involved in providing for them. As a result of these administrative responsibilities, from 1608 he resided for part of each year at Madrid.
Despite his heavy workload, Conway kept in contact with his former pupils who had joined the Irish mission. Their dispatches from Ireland had left him keenly aware of the dangers that faced the catholic clergy there. In 1611 he began writing a book outlining the persecution suffered by Irish catholics at the hands of English protestants. However, his superiors dissuaded him from completing this work, for fear that it would anger the English government.
In 1611–13 he was heavily involved in negotiating the transfer to the Irish Jesuits of the Irish college at Salamanca, which had previously taught both the laity and candidates for the priesthood. The Jesuits intended to use the college exclusively to train priests, but this was strongly opposed by the existing students. In July 1613 Conway took possession of the college and informed all students there that they would be expected to become priests. Many students refused to accept this and were expelled. In 1614 the powerful exiled Irish catholic nobleman Domhnall O'Sullivan Beare (qv) protested at Conway's conduct, but his superiors stood by his actions and he remained rector at Salamanca until 1618. As before, he proved hugely successful at raising funds to maintain the college, which was soon able to support twenty-five students.
In 1618 he resigned his rectorship and moved to Madrid, where he focused on raising money for the Irish colleges in Spain and for the Jesuit mission in Ireland. However, in 1619 he was made rector of the Irish college at Seville. The college was in a miserable condition, but his ability to raise money brought about a rapid improvement. Such was his success that complaints were directed against him for depriving other Jesuit houses in the city of charity. In late 1623 he was replaced as rector in Seville and went to Madrid to resume his role as procurator. He returned to Seville to become rector again in late 1625 and died there 1 December 1626.
John McErlean, ‘Richard Conway S.J.’, Irish Monthly, no. 51 (1923); Francis Finegan, ‘Irish rectors at Seville, 1619–1687’, IER, 5th ser., cvi (July–Dec. 1966), 45–63
◆ James B Stephenson SJ The Irish Jesuits Vol 1 1962
FR RICHARD CONWAY, SJ 1573-1626
(Abbreviated from the account published by Fr. John Mac Erlean, S.J. in the IRISH MONTHLY, 1923-24)
The preservation of the Catholic Faith in Ireland during three centuries of brutal persecution was largely due to the colleges and seminaries which patriotic Catholic Irishmen founded in several countries of Europe for the instruction of Irish youths and the education of Irish priests. Such signal service to the cause of God and Fatherland deserves to be remembered with everlasting gratitude. Their work was crowned with success. The most deadly efforts of the persecutors were gloriously defeated. One strange effect, however, of the long continuance of the persecution has been that the lives and works of those who conmenced and carried on its triumphal resis tance have been forgotten by those who even now are enjoying the fruits of their self-denying labours. To rescue their memory from oblivion is a pious and patriotic task.
Three Irish Jesuits stand out prominently as founders of Irish colleges in the Spanish peninsula: Fr John Howling, of Wexford, founder of the Irish College of Lisbon in 1590; Fr Thomas White, of Clonmel, founder of the Irish College of Salamanca in 1592; and Fr Richard Conway, of New Ross, who with Fr, Thomas White founded the Irish College of Santiago de Compostella in 1613, and that of Seville in 1619. Sketches of the careers of Fr. Flowlingand Fr White were published by the late Fr. Edmund Hogan, S.J. in his Distinguished Irishmen of the Sixteenth Century (London, 1094). Fr. Conway is mentioned frequently by the Rev, William McDonald, then Rector of the Irish College of Salamanca, in his articles entitled Irish Colleges Since the Reformation, published in the Irish Ecclesiastical Record in 1873, but a consecutive account of his career is well worth attepting for the light it throws upon the ecclesiastical history of the times.
The Conways were one of the leading families of New Ross in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The head of the family in the middle of the sixteenth century was Patrick Conway, who died in 1587, He married a Miss White, by whom he had two sons, George and Richard. Richard, the future Jesuit, was born at New Ross in 1572 or 1573. There is not much to record of his childhood or early years. He left Ireland for Spain when about sixteen or seventeen years of age, but, young as he was when he left his native land, he did not leave vithout personal experience of England's methods in Ireland, for his mother's house was raided on a forged warrant “to seize upon chalices, money and other things ... in respect of priests and Jesuits that were there harboured to say Masses”. In a note written in 1612 he sets forth clearly the reasons that forced him to seek abroad the education denied him at home. He says: “The greatest injury the English heretics have done, and one wlich has had the most serious consequences, has been the prohibition of all Catholic schools in our nation, naturally so inclined to learning, except an odd infant school in the principal cities and towns where reading, writing, and a little grammar are taught. Their object was to sink our people to degradation, or fill the universities of England with the children of those who had any means to educate them, where they might become more dependent on heretics and contaminated with their errors. They have also taken singular care that all children be taught English, and chastise them if they hear then speak their own native language. But all the efforts of these crafty heretics do not produce the desired effect. The natives not only did not go to England, but preferred rather to remain in ignorance than run the risk of their faith and religion by doing so, or they went secretly and quietly to many foreign parts, but particularly to Spain”.
It was in the year 1590, seemingly, that Richard Conway landed at Lisbon. There he met many other Irish students, who had come abroad for the same purpose, and whose interests and welfare were the object of the solicitous care of the Wexford Jesuit, Fr John Howling, then resident at the Jesuit house of S Roque, in that city. Fr Howling was at that very time engaged in founding a college for these Irish students, which was opened soon after'. During the next two years, 1590-1592, Richard Conway remained in the Irish College, studying humanities or classics. Then, as a Spanish writer says, “feeling that the end he had in view, the preservation of the faith and the conversion of heretics in Ireland, could be attained with greater security and perfection in a Religious Order, he offered himself to the Society of Jesus, and was received into it”. He entered the Novitiate of Coimbra on July 22nd, 1592.
After completing his two years! noviceship at Coimbra, and taking his vows as. a scholastic on August 20th, 15941, he was sent in the following year to the College of Monterrey in Spain, where he devoted himself to the study of philosophy for the next three years, 1595-1598, During this time he won the highest praise from the authorities of the College for his intellectual gifts, his prudence and skill in the management of affairs, and his progress in philosophy. He is described as being of gentle disposition, and even at this early date is said to be one who would be an excellent labourer in the vine yard of the Lord, and be suited for the office of Superior of his nation.
From Monterrey he passed, in 1598, to the Royal College of Salamanca, where he studied theology for the next four years, 1598-1562, though not without interruption, for, as our Spanish authority says: “The Superiors recognising his remarkable talent for looking after those of his nation, and the holy zeal that he had for their welfare, took him from his studies before he had completed them to employ him in this work, whereupon he began to aid the Irish seminaries”. The Irish Seminary, or College of Salananca, founded by Fr Thomas White, had been put under the care of the Society of Jesus by King Philip, in 1592, in answer to a petition presented by the Irish gentlemen at the Spanish Court. From 1592 onwards, Fr White and Fr James Archer were in charge of it. As they were often absent on missionary labours, or seeking aims for the support of the College, the duty of loo!:ing after the Irish students devolved on Fr Richard Conway, especially after his ordination as priest in 1600, and though he had still to do two years of his theological course, he acted from time to time as Vice-Rector.
Thus began Fr Conway's work on behalf of the Irish seminaries. He was stationed at Salamanca as preacher and confessor from 1600 to 1608, and often acted as Vice-Rector, he had full charge of the Seminary of Salamanca as Rector from 1608 to 1613, then of that of Santiago, 1613-1618. In 1619 he became Rector of the newly-founded Irish College of Seville, a position he held until 1622, and to which he was again appointed in 1625, and which he continued to hold till his death in 1626. Nor did this exhaust his labours. During these same years he acted as Prefect of all the Irish colleges in Spain, and as Procurator of the Irish Mission, in which capacity he was called to attend to the financial and other affairs of the Irish Mission in countries so far apart as Rome, Germany, Spain, Flanders, France, and Ireland,
When first he took up these multifarious duties it was a time of extraordinary difficulty. The victory of the English arms in Ireland in 1603 not only cut off all hope of receiving alms from Ireland, such as Fr James Archer had collected for the colleges in 1596, but threw upon the shores of Spain in the succeeding years destitute crowds of Irish men, women, and children, fleeing in ever-increasing numbers from the cruelty of the English, while continuing the main work of providing for the necessities of the colleges, Fr Conway strove hard to relieve the distress of these helpless refugees. Of the religious and scholastic fervour of the Irish Seminary of Salamanca in these years the Annual Letters of the Province of Castile for the year 1604 bear : striking testimony. There were then four Jesuits living in the College, filling the offices of Rector, Confessor, Professor, and Spiritual Director respectively. The students numbered twenty-two, of whom eight were studying theology and four philosophy. Eight students had entered the Society of Jesus, and four had entered other Religious Orders. All students made a week's retreat, some even made two weeks, and all were assiduous in religious practices. The Bishop, the Magister Scholae, and other Doctors testified in laudatory terns to the doctrine, conduct, and training of the students.
But, meanwhile, those to whom was due whatever provision for Irish students existed were subject to a new and unexpected trial. The administration of the Irish Colleges was bitterly and unreasonably assailed. These institutions were so necessary, and the good they were doing for the preservation of the faith in Ireland was so striking, that some well-meaning persons forgot, no doubt unconsciously, the ceaseless efforts required to procure for them the limited and uncertain resources which they possessed; but the bitterest critics were those who had done nothing towards the founding of the Colleges, and had never contributed a penny towards their support. The history of the two centuries that followed offers many examples of similar attacks on the administration of the Irish Colleges in Spain and Rome. The motives in the main were provincial animosities, suspicions of partiality, and the interference of ill affected outsiders, who for their own ends fomented dissensions and encouraged insubordination within the college walls.
This agitation was begun in 1602, when a memorial against the continuance of the Irish Fathers of the Society af Jesus in control of the Seminary of Salamanca, drawn up in the names of O'Donnell and O'Neill, was presented to King Philip III, and demanded: (1.) that half the students of the Seminary should be selected from Ulster and Connaught; (2) that Fr Thomas White should be removed from the rectorship as being one who could not be trusted to carry out such a selection, or who would ill-treat those students whom he would be forced to receive; and (3) that a Spaniard, who would see to the punctual execution of this decree, should be appointed Rector.
The plot was skilfully conceived and vigorously carried out. The malcontents dared not go so far as to demand that the seminaries should be handed over to themselves, but yet they hoped by appealing to Spanish prejudices to oust the Irish Jesuits. The controversy continued for more than two years, memorials and replies alternating. In defence of the Irish Jesuits, the Irish nobles and gentlemen residing in Valladolid refuted the accusations and defended the existing administration; the Provincial of Castile denied that there was any preference against Northern students; the Bishop of the place testified to the good conduct of the students and the discipline observed in the government, and said he had never heard any complaints of the rule of the Irish Fathers. Finally, the Rector of the Royal College, to whose supervision the Irish College was subject, declared that all the charges made by the memoralists were false and wholly destitute of foundation.
In spite of these testimonies in favour of the Irish Fathers, the government of the Irish College was by order of the King taken from then and a Spanish Jesuit was appointed Rector. This royal order remained in force for only three years, 1605-1608. The arrangement was found by experience to be unsatisfactory both for the finances and the discipline of the College, Indeed, it would have proved ruinous to the College had not Fr William Bathe, Fr Richard Conway, and, later, also Fr Janes Comerton, who dwelt in it as confessors and preachers, exerted all their influence to keep things quiet, and in general to promote the interests of the College.
The efforts of the Irish Fathers to help the Irish students in the midst of numerous difficulties were fully appreciated by the Jesuit General, Fr Claudius Aquaviva, who on April 3rd, 1607, complimented Fr Conway on what he was doing for them. But the state of affairs brought about by the royal interference rendered all efforts well nigh futile. Soon the General came to see that if the Seminary was to do efficient work it would have to be committed to the charge of the Irish Fathers, and wrote to this effect to the Spanish Provincial on July 24th, , 1607. The Spanish Rectors themselves readily admitted their unsuitability for the position, and the last of the three who held office during those three years appealed to the Provincial to appoint Irish Rectors in future. Finally the King was requested to revoke his former order, which he did on March 24th, 1608. Fr Richard Convay was chosen as the person most fitted to take on the government of the College, and he entered upon his office as Rector on May 6th of the same year.
During the time of the Spanish Rectors, as well as during the whole of his subsequent career, Fr Conway continued his activity on behalf of the Irish students and refugees. In a contemporary account we read that he often went to the Court and other places to seek alms for the support of his seminarists and by his zeal, pleasant manners, and exemplary life succeeded in getting large contributions for their relief, many other students and priests, for whom the Seminaries had no room, he assisted by giving them enough to enable then to pursue their studies in Salamanca, Alcala, Valladolid, Granada, and Cordova. His zeal did not confine itself to students, ecclesiastical or lay, but extended itself to relieving a large number of Irish girls who fled from Ireland for religion's sake to Spain. He sought alms for them all, and settled them in good positions. Some entered convents, while for others he begged dowries, and left then honourably and virtuously married. In the matter of getting alms, he was greatly helped by the fact that he had easy access to the houses of the highest gentlemen at the Court, including even the King and Queen, and the Prelates and Chapters, all of thom he won over by his good example and by his conversation. Thile seeking to relieve the material necessities of his countrymen, he did not neglect their spiritual needs. He preached not only to his seminarists, but also to externs, gave them the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, and sought their society only to win them and improve them spiritually.
His interest in the students did not cease when they left college, He followed then with paternal anxiety, and supported them by his advice when they had returned to their dangerous mission, and they on their part kept up a filial correspondence with him. Their letters shout the spirit with which they faced the danger's that surrounded them. The Rev Eugene O'Brien wrote to Fr Conway from Galway on September 30th, 1606, to tell him of the erforts made to take him when the persecutors found that he was an alumnus of the Spanish College. From Waterford the Rev John Wadding wrote in October of the same year, praising the constancy of the Mayor and Councillors of that city, several of whom had been taken prisoners by the heretics. Another former student, Rev Luke Bennett, a relative of his own, writing from Dunmore, in Leinster, in April, 1607, describes the persecution in his native New Ross, and tells how the faith is preserved in the district by the ministrations or four other priests from the Slamanca College, The Licentiate, Thomas Wise, who had gone from Salamanca to Rome, wrote to Fr Conway in June, 1607, telling hin of the barbarous cruelties inflicted on another former pupil. Thady Dimiran, because hr eefused to abjure the faith.
In 1611 the General wished Fr Conway to go to Rome and assist him with his advice in matters concerning the Irish Mission; but he yielded to representa tions made by Fr Thomas White and others, who explained how much his services were required in Spain.
In the year 1610 the Irish College of Salamanca was the recipient of several privileges and favours, A new building was presented to the Irish by the States of Castile, etc. A slab was placed over the door to commemorate the event. A new title, Colegio de Nobles Irlandeses (College of Irish Nobles), was given to the new establishment, which was formally made a royal college, and placed under the protection of the Kind, and, in addition to the ordinary annual alms given by the King to the College, Philip III undertook to pay every student his travelling expenses back to Ireland on the completion of his studies. These grants, largely due to Fr Conway's intercession, secured the future of the College.
But the government of the College, the begging of alms for its support, the solicitation of royal favours, did not exhaust the activities of Fr. Conway. Whilst engaged in these absorbing occupations, he compiled a work on English tyranny in Ireland, the publication of which was stopped lest the irritation of the King of England might endanger the lives of the Jesuits in Ireland and England and lead to a more violent persecution of the Catholic priests and laity in these countries. Whether the book was ever completed or not is not known, but certain short tracts, which may have been intended to form chapters of the complete work, have been preserved. Among these, his treatise on Irish saints marks hin out as one of the pioneers of Irish hagiography.
During the last tuo years of Fr Conway's rectorship at Salamanca he was much occupied with the negotiations that transferred the Irish College at Santiago de Compostella to the care of the Irish Fathers or the Society of Jesus in Spain. This College had been founded in the year 1605 by the King of Spain, at a time when thousands of Irish exiles fled to that country to escape the persecution of the English heretics. £100 per annun was granted to the students by the King, and the Rev Eugene MacCarthy, a secular priest, was appointed Rector of the College. This arrangement did not work satisfactorily, and Philip III determined to entrust it to the Irish Fathers. He wrote to this effect to the Provincial of Castile, Fr Gaspar de Vegas, and the Governor of Galicia, D Luis Henriquez. Owing to the straitened circumstances of the Province of Castile the Provincial hesitated about accepting the additional burden. Fr Conway forwarded to the General a statement of the case, giving the reasons for and against acceptance. The General in his reply favoured acceptance. Meanwhile Fr Eugene MacCarthy undertook the defence of the existing arrangement, and in a letter to the Provincial accused the Irish Fathers of being actuated by motives of ambition and self-interest in attempting to capture the College. Fr William White, SJ, had no difficulty in refuting these charges; the Provincial's opposition weakened, and in April, 1613, the question was finally settled by an express order to the Provincial from the Duke de Lerma, on the part of the King, for the Fathers to take charge of the College.
In consequence of this order, Frs Thomas White, William White, and Richard Conway sent to Santiago and took possession of the College, and on the 16th July the General wrote to the Provincial to order Fr Conway to take up the government of the Seminary of Santiago.
Fr Conway occupied the position of Rector from 1613 to 1618, though his other office of Procurator of the Irish Mission often compelled him to be in Madrid, especially towards the end of his term. He threw llimself with characteristic energy into the work of establishing and developing the new Seminary. The royal allowance of £100 per annum sufficed for the support of a small number of students, but by alms which he succeeded in obtaining from the clergy and the faithiul he was able to maintain as many as twenty-five. He drew up plans for linking up the Seminaries of Salamanca, Santiago, and Lisbon, to prevent overlapping, by having humanities taught in one, philosophy in another, and theology in the third. He looked after the spiritual interests of the Irish in Santiago, and as many of them were soldiers from France and the Low Countries, he arranged for the sending of Irish Jesuits who understood French and Flemish to minister to them. Another favourite idea of his was to unite the two Colleges of Salamanca and Santiago at the latter place. This would have economised on the staff and would have been beneficial to the health of the students; but no change was made.
Some disagreements and disputes arose during these years between O'Sullivan Beare and Fr Contay. In 1614 the former complained to the General of the expulsion of certain students from the Seminary, which, he said, had been established by the royal bounty, and with his consent transferred to the Society of Jesus. After full exanination, however, Fr Conway's action was approved by his Superiors. Another complaint was in respect of a house granted him by the King, of which he had been deprived by Fr Conway. This dispute was brought into the courts, and the claim of O'Sullivan Beare was upheld. It was a curious example of a double grant. In the decree of the Royal Camera, dated 29th July, 1617, it is said that the Camera, when it granted the house in question to the Seminary, was not aware that a grant had previously been made of the same house to O'Sullivan Beare, and that consequently the house was adjudged to him. There is no imputation against the good faith of Fr Conway in this law suit,
During the progress of the case, O'Sullivan Beare petitioned the King to have the former semi-laical character of the College of Santiago continued, maintaining that there was greater need of Catholic gentlenen in Ireland than of priests. Fr Conway resisted this interference, and his action received the approval of the General, Fr. Mutius Vitelleschi, who succeeded Fr Aquaviva on the latter's death in 1615. In April, 1618, on the appointment of Fr James Comerfort as Rector of Santiago, Fr Conway was left free to act as Procurator of the Irish Mission in Madrid. He had been carrying on the duties of this position since 1608, and had to deal with many important matters concerning the welfare of the Irish seminaries in Spain. Between 1613 and 1624 he carried on a good deal of correspondence about what is termed “the Sicilian money” - a legacy of the late Queen, amounting to between 6,000 and 7,000 ducats, half of which was to be invested for the support of the Mission. The exhausted state of the Sicilian treasury caused the payment of this sum to be deferred, and finally all hope of receiving it was abandoned.
Another important affair entrusted to the care of Fr Conway was that of the pension of Archbishop David Kearney, of Cashel. As the Archbishop was for many years at the beginning of the seventeenth century the mainstay of ecclesiastical organisation in Ireland, Philip III of Spain, in order to enable him to promote the interests of the Church, assigned to hin a pension of 2,000 ducats on the Bishopric of Cadiz. With the approval oi the General, the Archbishop in 1611 appointed Fr Conway his agent to conduct the necessary negotiations. These negotiations continued until the Archbishop's death in 1621, and the subsequent arrangements to carry out the disposal of the money in accordance with his wishes, and to resist the claims of the English and Scotch Colleges in Spain, occupied the attention of Fr Conway till his death, two years later, and dragged on for four years after that time.
In 1619 Fr. Conway vas recalled from Madrid, and sent to take up the position of Rector of the Irish College of Seville, which in that year was handed over to the Irish Jesuits. Eight years previously the General had been asked by Don Felix de Guzman, a Sevillian nobleman, Archdeacon and Canon, to undertake the management of such a college, but the General was unwilling to do so, as an English College already existed in the same city, and he wrote to that effect to Fr Conway, who as then in Lisbon, on December 6th, 1622. In the following year the Apostolic Nuncio in Spain gave leave for the collecting of alms for the Irish students of Seville, but again in this year, and in the two succeeding years, the General expressed his unwillingness to have the Society associated with the projected College.
The College was duly opened, and for the next few years was governed by a succession of secular priests, of whom the first two were Irish and the next four Spaniards. As the numerous changes indicate, the arrangement did not prove satisfactory, and Don Felix de Guzman and Don Geronimo de Medina Ferragut renewed their exertions to induce the Jesuits to take over the government of the College. Don Felix offered to support the Fathers sent, and Don Geronimo offered to make over the house which the students occupied, on the sole condition that the College should be called the College of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mother of God and of the Holy Catholic Faith, which name it retained ever afterwards. Fr Conway was now in favour of the Society taking over the College, and the King wrote expressing his desire that this should be done. In April, 1619, the Provincial and his Consultors agreed to accept, notwithstanding the grave difficulties which presented themselves, and this decision was approved by the General on June 19th. On the same day he wrote to Fr Richard Conway telling him to proceed to Seville to take charge of the new College.
The Society took possession of the College on August 20th, 1619. Fr Conway and Fr Michael de Morales (Cantuell) drew up an inventory of its goods and a list of the students. The effects left by the preceding administration were valued at only £12, and several large debts had been incurred which had to be paid afterwards. Fr Conway mentions the names of six students. The names of six others are known, and another account says that there were in all fifteen.
In view of the necessities of the Irish Seminary of Seville, the Holy See on September 9th, 1619, granted, in answer to a petition of Fr Conway, permission to the fishernien of Andalusia to fish on șix Sundays and holidays in the year, on the understanding that “the fruit of their toil should be given freely and without condition to the Irish College of Seville for the support of the Rector and students and persons employed in their services”.
To raise funds for the Irish Seminaries, all of which, but especially that of Seville, were in great need, Fr Conway proposed that some Irish Fathers should be sent from Spain to the Indies, that is, to Mexico and South America, with a view to colleting alms. When that proposal was not favourably entertained, he begged the General to write to the Provincials of the Indies to ask then to do whatever they could, and he suggested that the Provincial of Mexico should be requested to set aside Fr Michael Godinez (Wadding) for that work. The first part of the proposal was agreed to, but what the ultimate success of the project was we do not know.
During the years 1622-1623 complaints were made to the General of the way in which Fr Conway was running the College. The matters complained of were not of serious import. He is said to have admitted more students than the revenues of the institution could support, and to have allowed confessions to be heard in the church of the Seminary instead of sending the penitents to the Casa Professa, according to the regulations already laid down. Another complaint was that “the students of the Irish College went one day during the summer months in their collegiate gowns to bathe in the river, and returned home two hours after nightfall”. The real reason underlying all the complaints were seemingly Fr Conway's zeal in collecting alms, and new regulations were made with regard to requesting support for the College in the city. Fr Conway's alms-questing was not without some exciting experiences, for at least on one occasion, when going along the road for this purpose, he was set upon by robbers, who deprived him of everything he had, beat hin severely, and left him with his hands tied at the foot of an olive tree, where he lay for some time before he was able to free himself and make his way to a neighbouring village.
Towards the end of the year 1623, Fr Luis Ramirez was appointed Rector of the Irish College of Seville, and Fr Conway returned to his forner office of Procurator of the Irish Mission at the court of Madrid. On the 22nd December of that year he laid before the General a new plan for increasing the provision made for the education of the Irish secular clergy. This was to petition the Holy See to allow the Chapters of the Churches of Spain to receive tho Irish students each for the Irish Missions into the seminaries founded by order of the Council of Trent, notwithstanding the decree of that Council that the seminarists should be natives of the dioceses. The General deferred the consideration of this suggestion until the approval of the Chapters should have been obtained.
Another prospect for the development of colleges for the Irish secular clergy opened when towards the end of 1623 the Grand Prior of England of the Order of St. John set aside 2,000 ducats as a beginning of a foundation of an Irish College in Rome. Fr Conway was directed to forward the sum to Rome, so that it might be used to buy a site or be allowed to lie at interest until there would be enough for the end intended. In the following year, 1625, the General announced to him that the foundation of an Irish Seminary in Rome by Cardinal Ludovisi was taking shape slowly, but that it was not known when it would be put into execution.
On June 2nd, 1624, Fr Conway informed the General that the King and Council, recognising that the Irish Seminary at Douay was not being well administered by those who had charge of it, wished to entrust it to the Society. In reply, the General told him that, if the matter was as represented, the King and Council would be sure to give some sign of their desire, but that meanwhile he was not to speak about the subject or try in any way to have the Seminary entrusted to the Society. Similarly, when he announced in the following year the foundation of a new Irish Seminary at Alcala, he was told to have nothing to do with it: “Better improve those of Salamanca, Seville, and Santiago, so that they may be able to support more alunni”.
In 1624 he appealed to the Catholic King to recommend the needs of the Irish students to the bishops of Spain, and in a letter dated St Laurence (the Escorial), 31st October, 1624, King Philip III wrote recomending them to the Bishop of Zamora, as he had already recommended then, he says, to the prelates of Seville and Jaen.
Meanwhile affairs were not proceeding well in the Irish Seminary of Seville, Before a year elapsed Fr Ramirez asked to be relieved of the rectorate. The Spanish Fathers were not able to manage the Irish students. On the 7th July, 1625, Fr. Conway was ordered to proceed to Seville and take charge of the Seminary, as soon as he had settled up his affairs in Madrid; but it was not until Christmas that he arrived in Seville, and entered upon his duties as Rector of the Seminary for the second time. Under his management the disorders ceased, and he was congratulated on the zeal with which he looked after the interests of the College.
In January of the following year, 1626, the Seminary suffered great loss from the overflowing of the river. A good part of the building collapsed, and Fr Conway's efforts for the welfare of his students won considerable praise. He found accommodation for them in different places, but remained on in the house himself, and when he had collected what was necessary for their support he carried the food to them every day on foot. A few months later, in August, 1626, he became seriously ill, and he died on the lst of December, after having received the last Sacraments.
In this sketch of Fr. Conway's life and work little has been said of his spiritual life. From the difficulties he overcame and the greatness of the work he accomplished it has been possible, no doubt, to form some idea of those interior forces which supernaturalised his external activities, but there is abundant testimony given by those who lived with him to his religious virtue and holy life. Especially remarkable was his constancy in prayer. As the hours of the day did not suffice for his many devotional exercises, he devoted to them a large part of the night. We are told, that, though it was generally twelve or one o'clock when he retired to rest, he rose before four in the morning. His spiritual note-books, which reveal the daily life of his soul, contain so many prayers and devotions, distributed by days, weeks, months, and years, that it would seen he had nothing else to do. His fasts and other mortifications were also noticed by his contemporaries. He slept three nights a week on the ground; he fasted every Saturday, and each day he gave a large part of his food to the poor. He wore clothes cast off by others, and at his death the only thing that he seems to have possessed was a small cross, half broken. As a final example of his spirit of detachment and abnegation may be mentioned the fact that, although for many years he had leave from his Superiors' to return to his native land, he never made use of it, lest by doing so he might neglect the Irish exiles abroad.
Fr Conway was not only a devoted son of the Catholic Church, but a great lover of Ireland. In the heat of controversy O’Sullivan Beare spoke of hin as Anglo-Irish. Geoffrey Keating was accused of being the same, and his reply to the accusation might have been penned by Fr Richard Conway. For Fr Conway spoke the Irish language, and was as familiar with Irish history and tradi ions as any O'Sullivan. By his words and writings he revived the name and fame of Ireland on the Continent. It was through him, as far as we can discover that the Codex Salmanticensis, from which Fr. John Colgan, OSF, and the Bollandists derive so much of their knowledge of Ireland's early saints, came into possession of the Irish College of Salamanca, and was thus preserved for future ages. The seminaries he founded frustrated the British plan of perverting Ireland through enforced ignorance.
To Salamanca, the first of the seminaries which lie ruled, he transmitted that tradition of learning and love of Ireland which such men as Fr Paul Sherlock and Fr Peter Reade afterwards handed on. Ireland may well be proud of hin, and so may the Society of Jesus. At a time when the memory of the canonisation of St Ignatius and St Francis Xavier was still fresh in Spain, a Spanish contemporary does not hesitate to compare him with both these illustrious saints : “Fr Richard Conway”, he says, “was one of the true sons of our glorious Father, St Ignatius, and a true imitator of that zeal for souls that consumed the heart of the glorious Father, St Francis Xavier, on the eve of whose feast he was called to his rewrard by God, leaving to us who remain after him his exemplary life for our initation and consolation”.
John MacErlean SJ
◆ James B Stephenson SJ Menologies 1973
Father Richard Conway 1572-1626
Fr Richard Conway, together with Fr John Houling and Fr Thomas White, may be reckoned as one of the Saviours of the Faith in Ireland. This claim is based on his work of founding and maintaining Irish Colleges, mainly in Spain and Portugal, by means of which a steady flow of secular priests, Jesuits and educated Irish gentlemen was poured into the country, when all means of higher education had been eeradicated by the English authorities
Richard Conway was born in New Ross in 1572, and he sought the education, deniend him at home, in Lisbon, at the age of sixteen or seventeen. There he met Fr John Howling, and under his aegis became a Jesuit at Coimbra in 1592. Thenceforward, his whole life was dedicated to the education andservice of trhe countless Irish refugees flybing from persecution at home. He founded the Colleges of Santiago and Seville, and by a lifetime questing alms and wisely governing various Irish Colleges, fought the good fight, which prompted Fr MacErlean to say of him “Ireland may well be proud of him, and so may the Society of Jesus”.
Some time before his death, while collecting alms, he was waylaid by robbers and deprived of everything he possessed.He was neated severely, and he was left with his hands toed to the bottom of an olive tree. He cried aloud for help but noone came. He invoked Our Lady and his Guardian Angel, whereupon his bonds were loosened, and he made his way to a nearby town.
On his death bed, December 1st 1626, before he closed his eyes forever, Christ Our Lord appeared to him, and as a foretaste of the glorious reward in store for him, led him unto a charming region, where he beheld strange and secret sights.