RSCJ Uganda/Kenya Province | Sharing my story

The Story of Margaret Conroy

Margaret ConroyI was born in Newfoundland in 1930 when it was still a colony of Great Britain. My father died when I was 9 months old and for a time we lived (my mother, brother and myself) with my father's parents and 7 uncles and aunts. At about 5 I went to Mass with Granny one dark winter morning and at the consecration had a totally unexpected and pivotal meeting with God. I knew it was God and that God had claimed me.

We moved to Montreal when my mother married again. I was 13, my brother 15. My step-father, a widower, had two children aged 16 and 14. We amazingly, thanks to my mother's wisdom and tact, formed a happy family. My brother became a priest of the Newfoundland diocese where we grew up and eventually went to Peru as a missionary. He died there at the age of 38 in an accident. I did my high school at the Convents of the Sacred Heart (Sault and City House) and then went to McGill University where my step-father was teaching. I loved Madonna House in Combermere and their austere way of life but even more I loved the atmosphere of contemplative prayer in our Convent Chapels when the nuns were making their adoration. I took off for Europe the day after my last exam at McGill, hitched hiked all over northern Europe with a friend to prove my independence, came home and entered at Kenwood for the Feast of Blessed Philippine. I had a hard time as a second year novice doing teaching practice in the school for I couldn't control the children, but I scraped through. After vows and a year of study as a 'black junior' I went to Halifax and found to my surprise that I enjoyed teaching. I only taught at 2 schools in the next 14 years - Halifax and the City House in Montreal. Any time a Mother General came to visit I asked to go to the missions and was always told there were not enough Canadian vocations for me to be able to go. I went to Rome for probation and final profession in 1960, came back and went to Oxford to specialize in English Literature from 1964 to 1966. Just before the final exams I got the news of my brother's death in Peru.

Those were years of great change in religious life. Rev. Mother Bulto came to visit Halifax and once more I felt drawn to ask to go on the missions, though I knew it would be hard on my mother. Mother Bulto said, "But it is your Provincial you have to persuade!" That was news to me. I went to Rev Mother Amyot and repeated my request and she said she would see about it when she was in Rome in the near future. She came back to tell me I would be going to Uganda after the summer, in August, 1971. It was hard to tell my mother, still not over the death of my brother, but though she blamed me for not letting her in on the process, she gave her blessing. Indeed, she and my step-father came to visit me in Uganda the following year.

In Uganda I spent two happy years teaching in a secondary school in Kalisizo. Then three of us who could cope with French were asked to go to Chad to help in our College du Sacré Coeur and in our pastoral ministry in Ndjamena. I stayed four years, for most of the time living in the African Quartier among people of the Ngombai tribe. It was a wonderful experience. There was a coup d'etat during that time and those living at the College were being shelled because the President's house was right behind. They could see his body lying on the path down to the river, killed as he tried to escape.

In 1977 our mission in Chad was placed under the Mother House and I returned to Uganda, serving in Kalungu for the next four years. I was there in 1979 when Amin was overthrown by the Tanzanian army and the school was surrounded by soldiers for a month and a half. School proceeded as usual but the girls ate supper in silence and went to bed very quietly so as not to attract the attention of the soldiers. It was a time of great unity between the staff, the students and the parish. We were in God's hands and happy.

In 1981 I went to Karamoja to be part of the founding community of our mission in Kangole. That too was a very happy time. We lived in thatched mud and wattle round houses until the Bishop of Moroto heard about it and told us we had to build in cement block for safety.

I stayed in Kangole for thirteen years, the longest anywhere, teaching and then administering in the secondary school. Then I did my stint as Provincial for 6 years, living in Kampala.

Afterwards I was longing to serve in Laini Saba primary school in Kibera, Nairobi, where we were teaching, but instead I was sent to Mbiko to help with teaching the novices. I got over the disappointment and enjoyed myself teaching French, Church History, Society History and History of the Province. By then I was getting very deaf and the small numbers enabled me to move around and get close enough to hear each one. We even made a video of the History of the Uganda-Kenya Province from 1962 to 2000 using drama and song.

In 2004 I was sent back to Karamoja, this time to Naoi community in Moroto. I have been there 9 years. All the girls I taught in Kangole are now middle-aged women with grown-up children. I go to the prison every Thursday, bring out HORIZONS four times a year, keep in touch with generous Canadians who are sponsoring children in Kenya and Uganda, help my Sisters in any way I can with their ministries of women's development and home based care of those sick with AIDS and do my part in cooking, cleaning and preparing community prayer I also read anything I can about Vatican 2. The Tablet, an English weekly, comes in batches now that our snail mail is collected from Soroti by our Moroto Post Master only once a month, but when it comes I enjoy it! My heart continues to rejoice at the election of Pope Francis and to hope for a renewal of the Church after a long era of mist and darkness.