by NANCY SCHWERIN
CHARLESTON — Conway Park is official. Named in honor of Franciscan Sister Maigread Conway, it is a gathering place for the countless people whose lives she touched on earth and for those her spirit may reach from heaven.
After two years of working with the Diocese of Charleston, the city named the park at the corner of America and Columbus streets in honor of one of the church’s most dedicated servants.
Sister Conway died in November of 1999 after battling idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis of the lungs. In her more than 30 years in Charleston, the sister touched every corner of the community, seeing that the voiceless were heard. She ministered with fellow Franciscan Sister Colleen Waterman, who is one of about 175 women from their order who have worked in the area.
“I look at the park in many ways. I think it’s a blessing for all of the people that Sister Maigread has touched in the greater Charleston community, honoring all of the them,” Sister Waterman told The Miscellany. “Particularly I think it honors the little people in the community that don’t get recognized; they certainly have given us more than what we’ve given. I know [Sister Maigread] does not want this honor for herself, but for all the people that don’t get recognized.
“I don’t look at it as just for the people in that area; I can’t put Sister Maigread just there because she’s so much more than that. It’s an honor to have it there; it’s a place where we’re all equal; there are no religious barriers there, no educational barriers, no color barriers,” said the sister.
More than 150 people gathered in the park with Mayor Joseph Riley; Bishop Robert Baker; retired Bishop David Thompson; Msgr. James Carter, who prompted the park naming; Sister Waterman; Msgr. Thomas Duffy; members of the Conway family who came down from Minnesota; and Sister Geneva Berns, associate community minister for the Franciscan Sisters of the Congregation of Our Lady of Lourdes from Rochester, Minn.
John Conway spoke to the crowd about his sister and said, “I know the spirit of Maigread is in all of you.” The gathering of people who knew the sister well nodded in agreement.
Msgr. Duffy read from Matthew chapter 25, which calls those people to the Lord who have clothed and cared for the poor, provided food and water to the hungry and nourished the soul of the needy.
“Sister Maigread meditated on those words often and lived them, and so she was ready to face the Lord of Matthew chapter 25,” Bishop Baker said.
Mayor Riley unveiled the plaque that marks the naming of the park.
“We name things in this city slowly and profoundly,” he said.
He recalled the creation of the park in 1880 and its many transformations since, but he said he was confident that this is the final stage in the park’s formation.
“It will always be here and always have the name of Sister Maigread,” said the mayor. “I see this as a teaching opportunity. Fifty years from now people will want to know who Sister Maigread is.”
He said that through learning about her work, others may be inspired to follow in her footsteps.
Bishop Baker blessed the park sprinkling with water the new white trellises and bench swings and the people who came to remember their beloved friend.
“We invite people to come here in prayer to reflect on Sister Maigread’s mission and ministry and to meet her again,” said Bishop Baker. “Jesus says where two or more are gathered in prayer, he is in their midst, and I’m sure he would bring Sister Maigread along with him.”