Francis was born on 9th June 1933 to Patrick and Emily Conway (nee Clarke). He was baptised Robert at St Aidan’s Church, Willington Quay, Wallsend, on 20th June. His parents raised eleven children, of whom Robert was the youngest son.
Robert entered the Franciscan novitiate at Chilworth in 1953 but left after three months. Of this time, he writes: “While in the novitiate I looked after the chickens. I was their best friend. When I left Chilworth the then Novice Master said that if ever I wished to return I was to get in touch with him, and I thought ‘not on your nelly.”
On leaving the novitiate, Robert was called up for National Service and volunteered to sign on for four years.
He served in the RAF in England and Germany. He writes: “During a holiday in Italy with RAF friends I found myself, without any particular planning, in Assisi. I was moved while praying in the chapel of the Portiuncola to write and ask for readmission to the novitiate. I had a hope that I would not be readmitted. I had a residual guilt feeling for having left. In reply to my letter the Novice Master said I was to return as soon as I was demobbed. He remembered that I had looked after the chickens very well”
Robert returned to the novitiate in January 1958, and in the Order was known as Francis. He completed his initial formation and studies and was ordained Priest at East Bergholt on 3rd April 1965. As a Priest, he worked in Franciscan parishes in Bristol, Dundee, Ascot, Chilworth, Nottingham, Stratford, and Craigmillar-in some of these parishes he had more than one period of appointment. Whilst in Ascot, Francis attended North London Polytechnic, and qualified as a Social Worker in 1972, with a specialisation in child care. He worked for six years for Surrey County Council.
In 1987, Francis was a co-founder of a new-style community in a housing estate in Gateshead. He lived there for six years and worked as a Social Worker for the Metropolitan Council of Gateshead. Thereafter, he moved to Craigmillar, where he was appointed Guardian and Parish Priest (1993- 2002). During this time, Francis underwent major heart surgery. It was also in these years that his eyesight began to fail. He moved to Stratford in 2002.
Besides work in parishes and Social Work, Francis served the Order and the Church at different times as Guardian, Definitor, Assistant Novice Master, Vocations Director, Retreat Preacher, and Vicar for Religious (Edinburgh).
A short time before he died, Francis was diagnosed as having acute myeloid leukaemia. He was admitted to Newham Hospital, and then to St Joseph’s Hospice, Hackney. He returned to the friary for a short time, but on a deterioration of his condition, he was re-admitted to Newham Hospital, and then to St Joseph’s. He had prepared himself to welcome Sister Death, and he died at St Joseph’s on 19th April.
May he rest in peace.