Brother Conrad Carey

After the death of a monk the community of New Melleray shares remembrances of our recently departed brother. The following was given by Fr. Thomas McCarthy.

It seemed that it might be interesting to start with a rough sketch of Br. Conrad’s life before he entered the monastery…. He was born at Kippaghs–Ballyvourney, County Cork, Ireland (August 24) in 1904, 72 years ago. Kippaghs is a small group of houses about a mile and a half north of Ballyvourney, and it is there that Br. Conrad lived. Ballyvourney wasn’t much bigger than Kippaghs 60 years ago, but the church & school were located there and also a store.

There were 7 children in the family, 4 girls & 3 boys. He was the 4th or 5th child…. His name was Patrick Joseph Carey. However, he was known by his second name, Joe, the first name was never used. Some of his early memories are typical of many boys. He disliked wearing a cap, and if his mother made him wear it on some occasion, he couldn’t wait to get home and take it off. He liked to go barefoot and would walk thru every puddle in the road. When he mentioned that he would smile and say, “The water was so nice and warm.” He claimed he wasn’t much of a student, but was fond of catechism and always did very well in that. He did attempt to join the Christian Brothers at one time, but his parents wouldn’t let him since they thought he was too young, and he only was in grade school at the time. Those two things would seem to indicate a pious youth, but he mentioned other stories too.

The custom in Ballyvourney was for everyone to make the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. For some reason, one Good Friday he was trying to avoid doing it, but his sister was constantly reminding him. He tried to keep out of her way, but finally near the end of the day she got hold of him and said in an angry voice, “Even crippled people go to church today.” With that he gave in and went.

The famous stone from the ruins of St. Gobnait’s Church is known to all. (Dom Pol Hennesey, Abbot of Mount Melleray sent him a stone and it was inserted in the wall of New Melleray’s church at the time of it’s renovation.) The ruins are only about two miles from his home and are a center of pilgrimage. The main devotion is called “making the rounds” which refers to something similar to the Stations of the Cross. Since he had such a great devotion to St. Gobnait I figured he must have made the rounds numerous times, but it turned out that he only did it once in his life and that was because his mother made him go with her. His devotion to St. Gobnait developed here. However he did enjoy the missions given in the parish church.

He told of hunting. They didn’t have any guns so the dogs had to catch the rabbits. As a result the rabbits nearly always got away, but the boys had fun and the dogs got excercise. He was fond of what he called step dancing. One of his uncles, every year or two, would get a group of children together and give them lessons. It was quite a concentrated course. When he went there was a class every evening for two or three months. Often on Sunday afternoon they used to dance on a wooden bridge in a wooded area near their home. Among others he spoke of the hornpipe, the jig, and the reel. The hornpipe seemed to be his favorite dance.

One of his older sisters, Mary, convinced him to come with her to the United States. He actually wasn’t too enthused about the idea. His oldest sister was married and lived in Newburyport, Massachusetts. So in September 1923 at the age of 19, Joe Carey arrived in the New World. After spending a short time with his oldest sister he got a job in Boston. He had other relatives there. Mary ended up in New York City. About three years later he received a letter from her and was very surprised to see that it was from Ireland. She had returned to the “old sod.” Remember she was the one who convinced him to come to the United States. At that point of the story he would smile & laugh a bit and say, “That is how they got rid of me.” Actually Mary later went to England, settled down in London, and was the mother of a rather large family.

He was in Boston for about ten years. Interestingly, he was somewhat of a boxing fan while he was there, and used to go to boxing matches every now and then. In 1934 he moved to New York City and was there for about two years. His brother John and his wife lived there and still do (1977), although they moved to a suburb about a year ago. They had come over after Br. Conrad. He claimed John is a big man, around 6 feet 4 inches tall. He takes after his mother’s side of the family. He is five years older than Br. Conrad and the last living member of the family.

In late 1935, at the age of 31, he joined the Alexian Brothers in Chicago. He was with them about two years, and then decided that their way of life was not his vocation. Interestingly, it was the novice master of the Alexian Brothers who suggested that he come here. At the time Br. Conrad knew little or nothing about the Order, and he hadn’t even heard of New Melleray. Then in January (21) 1938…, at the age of 33, he entered the Community here.

The abbey records state that Abbot Bruno Ryan gave Br. Conrad the novice’s habit on Aug. 7, 1938, received his first vows on Aug. 15, 1940 and his final vows on Aug. 15, 1943.

I first met Br. Conrad when I visited New Melleray in June 1947. He worked in the guest house cleaning at that time. He impressed me as very humble and prayerful, with a cheerful smile and not given to much talking. He told me about a very talkative man who used to come here. When Br. Conrad saw him coming he would slip into a room and hide in a closet to avoid excessive conversation. He led a very quiet life in the community. He had worked at the dairy barn. Once Br. Joachim came into the guest house kitchen to wash dishes and said: “I’m all tired out” and he looked exhausted. Br. Conrad replied: “That’s the way to heaven.” His legs began to give out in the 1960’s and he began working in the infirmary, helping Br. George and preparing vegetables for the cook. About this time he developed cancer in his spine and nearly died, but a new medicine came out that helped him. He lived about ten years longer. He was very devoted to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament & to the Blessed Virgin Mary so he assisted at as many Masses as he could and often prayed the Rosary. Ever since I’ve been at New Melleray a group of Monks have prayed the Rosary together in the infirmary, either in the chapel or the room of a sick Monk. Br. Conrad was very devoted to this and this practice still continues. The last All Souls’ Day of his life he assisted at eleven Masses. He frequently visited the sick monks and did all he could to help and comfort them. When he became sick himself his room became a famous place of pilgrimage for many of us. He had a little shrine of Jesus and Mary and every day we would pray together. He also made the Way of the Cross as long as he was able. He had a good sense of humor. Once Fr. Pius asked him for a spiritual thought. Br. Conrad, knowing that Fr. Pius had a refrigerator in the gift shop stocked with soft drinks & sometimes ice cream, etc., said: “Keep away from the refrigerator!” Br. Conrad was very charitable in his speech and when people’s names were mentioned would very often remark: “He’s a good man!” Even when he was sick himself he kept on cleaning the infirmary and visiting the sick. He died of cancer on January 13, 1977 and was the first to be buried from our renovated church. The new church was so important to him that his interest in it seemed to keep him alive the last few years until it was completed. His greatest consolation was to assist at the consecration of our new church in July, 1976. 

After his death I wrote to his brother John in New York for information about Br. Conrad. John was suffering a lot from arthritis. His wife, Margaret wrote: “Br. Conrad was anything but a letter writer & a man of few words.” It was providential that Dom Pol Hennesey, retired Abbot of Mount Melleray, and a dear friend of Br. Conrad, was here giving us conferences when Brother died and assisted at his funeral. I pray to Br. Conrad every day and experience his help. He is an inspiration to me as an ideal monk: all for God and a beloved child of Mary.