Thomas Conroy inspired students, his flock

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 16, 2009 - 11:08 PM

A man of intelligence and good humor, the priest taught theology at St. Thomas for more than 30 years.

A stroke 12 years ago left the Rev. Thomas Conroy partly paralyzed, but that didn't stop him from serving the Roman Catholic Church or inspiring young minds.

For more than 50 years, he dedicated himself to teaching theology courses to seminary students at the University of St. Thomas, and to faithfully offering mass at the Church of St. Peter in Richfield, even though he struggled at times to get to the pulpit.

"His sermons were the highlight of many people's weeks," said Ann Garland, parish administrator. "They were insightful and intelligent. He loved St. Peter's and was an inspiration to our people. He was a servant of the church."

Conroy, 84, gave his final sermon from his wheelchair March 8. He died Thursday at the Marion Care Center in St. Paul from complications following his second stroke, said his brother, Don, of Minneapolis.

Conroy was a man of good humor who liked to talk and was bright and intelligent. That combination made him a popular professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, where he was named Professor of the Year in 1980. A floor in Brady Residence Hall at the school is named in his honor.

"He brought great wisdom and enthusiasm to his students," said Jim Moudry of Minneapolis, who took courses from Conroy at the former Nazareth Hall Preparatory Seminary in Roseville and later taught with him there. "He was well-informed, passionate and strong in his understandings, and he was inspiring in that sense."

Conroy was born in St. Paul and attended Cretin High School through his sophomore year. That's when he began to study theology at Nazareth Hall before heading to the St. Paul Seminary. His studies took him to the University of Notre Dame, Don Conroy said. He also studied under many European theology scholars at universities in Rome and his native Ireland.

At St. Thomas, Conroy taught for 30 years and was chairman of the Theology Department from 1969 to 1985. Under his leadership, the department grew from five faculty members to 17 and theology was added as a major field of study, school officials said.

"The number of hours he spent in front of classrooms throughout his life is not only amazing, but a testimony to the man's commitment to his discipline and his love of the church," said Rev. John Malone, vice president for mission at St. Thomas.

Conroy was founding executive secretary of the Liturgical Commission of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. One of his proudest contributions to Roman Catholic churches in the area was implementing reforms that pertained to mass and sacraments following the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s to bring the church more in conversation with the modern world, his brother said.

"He was well aware how the church needed to speak to the culture and age, and that grace and holiness was not just in the church, but it's in humanity," said the Rev. Peter Laird, vice rector, director of seminarians and assistant professor of moral theology at the St. Paul Seminary and the School of Divinity at St. Thomas.

In addition to his brother, Conroy is survived by 14 nieces and nephews. Services will be held at 9:30 a.m. today at St. Mark's Catholic Church, 2001 Dayton Av., St. Paul. Visitation will be held at 8:30 a.m. today at the church.

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