Known and beloved by many of the faithful in Macao, Father Aidan Conroy has been serving as a priest in the city for over 40 years and has been in Asia for nearly 60 years.
Born 1 February 1939 in Cork City, Ireland, to a family of eight as the fifth child, Conroy had always wanted to become a priest. But initially, it was actually his elder brother’s ambition, one that Conroy himself considered for all the “wrong” reasons.
Having lived near a golf course throughout his childhood, he frequently glimpsed past its fence when heading home from school every day and saw priests playing golf. This had a young Conroy pondering becoming a priest someday – to get to play golf. “Of course, it was a wrong reason for becoming a priest, but the idea was planted,” he adds.
He also admired his elder brother – who wanted to be a priest – as a good footballer and, wanting to be good at the sport himself, priesthood yet again piqued Conroy’s interest. “Another wrong reason!”
Whatever his early reasoning, Conroy’s parents were happy with his choice and he entered Salesian Secondary College in Pallaskenry, County Limerick in Ireland for his junior cycle of secondary education in 1952. “All of us aspired to be priests and missionaries,” he says. “But not all persevered.”
He was happy there and went forward to the next stage, the novitiate year, a period of deep reflection and preparation before taking his first vows. Conroy then completed two years of philosophy and academic studies, followed by two years of practical training in Ireland.
During his novitiate, the Salesians of Don Bosco Society had asked for volunteers for Hong Kong. “I think we all volunteered,” he recalls. He would not make the journey east, however, until after he completed his training in 1962. Conroy taught at Hong Kong’s Tang King Po School, a secondary school founded by the Salesians in 1953, from 1962 to 1969.
Before being assigned to Macao, he returned to Ireland for theological studies at Maynooth College, in north County Kildare of Ireland, known as the “national seminary” of Ireland, and remained there for four years. Ordained on December 17, 1972, Conroy returned to Hong Kong in 1973.
Conroy made the move to Macao in 1975, taking an official teaching position at Instituto Salesiano (IS), one of the city’s oldest educational institutions, founded in 1906 by Fr Louis Versiglia near the end of the Qing dynasty.
He taught English at IS, then a vocational school for boys. As Conroy shares, in the early years – before students could aspire to university education – it was their mission to make their graduates easily employable once they left IS. He stopped teaching five years ago, but still does some composition work with pupils who volunteer for some extra work. “Of course, as a priest,” he says, “I will never retire until someone tells me I am past my ‘sell by date’!”
With extra time on his hands – and if he’s not in Ireland for his biannual trip to visit family – he likes to read for relaxation. Conroy says that he’d always enjoy a Robert Ludlum book. Aside from that, his favourite spiritual writer is Fr. Jack McArdle: “I like his simple, homely, down-to-earth style.”
A quote he’d like to share is this: “Always try to see the best in people; we all have good points, even though no one is perfect, and we are equally loved by God.”