Neal Conway


About Neal J. Conway,
Name-Dropping Included

July 4, 2016

My site has its origins in the late 1990s when email became popular. Some of the oldest essays were originally emails that I sent to friends. By 2003 I knew enough about html to create a site and the original went on-line in April of that year. Back then I did everything, even drawing the little thumbnails of DC buildings, just as I created the cascading style sheets for the 2016 reboot.

As I, the observer learned more about what goes on in my church, I realized that some Catholic web sites that treat of faith and culture also peddle baloney. And so, in what advertising people call "positioning," I added "Faith And Culture Without The Baloney."

After ten years, the original format, despite my brilliant, timeless sketches, looked pretty tired and dull. On top of that, along came Facebook and other social media. I found myself grafting Facebook "Like" code where visitors couldn't see it and trying all kinds of gimmicks to get thumbnails to appear on FB when a reader likes. The only way to address the static and staid appearance and the social media issue was to redesign the entire site using cascading stylesheets. Once again, I did all the coding and graphics myself. All new pages have Facebook "like" and "share" buttons at the top as well as other social media share options.

Neal Conway

And away we go.

I was born in Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, DC in 1961. All our family doctors were Georgetown grads. A basketball scholarship to Georgetown U. is what brought my father and mother from Northeastern Pennsylvania to Washington in the early 1950s. My father eventually became a government attorney and my mother, before having me, was an administrative assistant in the United States District Attorney's office during very interesting times.

I am not to be confused with a distant cousin, the Rev. Mr. Neal T. Conway, deacon of the Archdiocese of Washington. Nor am I Neal Conway, the songwriter and I am most certainly not Neal Conway, the pedophile priest. I and other Neal Conways are possibly namesakes of Neal Conway, O.F.M., the clandestine bishop of Derry Ireland in the early 1700s when the Catholic Church was illegal and underground. I like to think that none of us are direct descendants of that bishop, but as an old Irishman said to me, "Ya never know."

I've lived all but two months of my life in the DC suburb of Bethesda, Maryland which is sort of like Cambridge, Mass. (In fact, the two months I didn't live in Bethesda, I lived in Cambridge, Mass.). Bethesda Catholics are a lot like Boston Catholics. They overwhelmingly support pro-abortion politicians. One of our neighbors was Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. Down the hill from us lived Clark Clifford, LBJ's Secretary of Defense who concluded that the Viet Nam War was unwinnable.

A couple miles up the road from our house was Georgetown Preparatory School established by Archbishop John Carroll in 1789, but moved from Georgetown U., it's child, to Rockville, Maryland in 1919. There I had some wonderful teachers including the Rev. James A. P. Byrne who instilled in me a curiosity about literature. Another was Rev. John J. Nicola, a real-life exorcist who was technical advisor for the movie, The Exorcist. Sitting as a senior in Fr. Nicola's Philosophy class in 1978, the year John Paul II became pope, I developed an interest in Philosophy and dogmatic thinking years before JP II has inspired such interest in the next generation.

Neal Conway

College job on Capitol Hill, 1985

Then I went up to the Catholic University of America in Brookland in Washington DC's Northeast quadrant. Catholic U., not that university in Indiana with the gold dome, is the official Catholic university in the United States. There I studied as a Political Science major. One of my professors was Dr. Norman Ornstein and one of my classmates was Martin O'Malley, later governor of Maryland and presidential candidate.

During my enrollment, the CU faculty included soon-to-be-expelled Charles Curran, the dissident theologian who had led the rebellion against encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968. Always a mediocre student, I blossomed academically at Catholic U. In a couple classes the papers I turned in were put on reserve as suggested reading for my fellow students and I (along with Martin O'Malley) was nominated to the International Honor Society in Social Science. My diploma was signed by another controversial figure, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin.

I was published occasionally, but though my writing was noticed and praised, I did not seriously consider a writing career until I had spent several years in the working world. I worked in management jobs at DC law firms, including Hogan & Hartson (now Hogan Lovells). An attorney on the Hogan & Hartson staff at that time was young John G. Roberts, now Chief Justice of The United States. During my law-firm career, I observed and learned how to relate to the many different kinds of people who inhabit Washington. I also honed my practical side by learning how to work, act and expect like a big-city professional. I think I'm a rare combination of creativity and practicality.

With this experience also came stress. By 1992, I was suffering from anorexia, rare for males. I began a recovery and a transition to a writing career by getting a job in the development office of a private Catholic high school. I also began a 5-year stint of writing and editing articles for the young Catholic newspaper circulating in Montgomery County, Our Parish Times, then owned by Paul G. Zurkowski. I was the closest thing to a journalist that OPT had. During this time, I also contributed articles and photos to The Catholic Standard and the Arlington Catholic Herald. I briefly served as a business reporter for a local secular newspaper but quit when paychecks for the news staff were put off far too long.

On a blizzardy Saturday in March 1993, I found my mother dead in bed and my distraught father's affairs thrust suddenly in my hands.

Over the next year and a half, it became apparent that Dad was suffering from something greater than the loss of my Mom. What was probably Alzheimer's led to his death in 1997.

As my father's illness became evident, I realized that my life and career were going to be disrupted by caregiving. I had to come up with something to do in order that the management of my father's decline and affairs would not be a total setback.

The something I came up with was Tales From Old Bethesda, a volume of 12 short stories. Tales was a unique work of Washington fiction in that its characters were not politicians or spies, but the "ordinary" prep-educated genii that only occur in places such as Bethesda. It was also an attempt at Catholic fiction with its themes of the healing power of love and of the propagation of waste and loss through years and lives, especially in the commission of little acts of evil that people tend to dismiss as "part of life."

There have been two books attempting to imitate Tales From Old Bethesda since it was published, but Tales remains the first (and best.)

Neal Conway

Receiving my certificate for Community Service Chair at my Knights of Columbus council. I was still recovering from anorexia.

Following my father's death in 1997, I enrolled in what was billed as the "prestigious" George Washington University Publication Specialist Institute. I completed 1.5 years of course-work in only 9 weeks, really nothing to brag about because some of the coursework was kindergarten-level.

In early 1998, I suffered my second life-threatening illness, acute Deep Vein Thrombosis. During my hospitalization, I quit my 20- year smoking habit. That was the smartest thing I ever did.

Also in 1998, I went to work as a production editor and webmaster for a Catholic non-profit near my alma mater, Catholic U. One of the publications that I worked on was Share The Word: Scripture Reflections For Today's Disciples. It was often confused with The Word Among Us -- even some subscribers called it "Share The World" -- and it could never compete with Magnificat. Working there was my continuing education in Catholic dysfunction.

Neal Conway

Working in Brookland, DC around 2000. Where I'm standing is now filled with townhouses.

In August of 2005, I began seven interesting years at the prestigious Congressional Quarterly, producing CQToday, which was a daily must-read for members of Congress, the President of the United States, his staff and cabinet. I also produced portions of the slick magazine, CQWeekly.

As it turns out, I have done more producing than writing in my "writing" career. People ask me, "Why don't you write a column?" Even if I were asked to do so, I've worked with peope who write columns and I've heard them say, "Oh, Hell! It's Friday and I have to write my column!"

Congressional Quarterly was purchased by The Economist and merged with the similarly missioned Roll Call. My old professor, Dr. Norman Ornstein, and I were on the same payroll as was the retiring Morton Kondracke. I survived the first round of layoffs in the merger, but not the second. Thank God and St. Joseph The Worker I was able to land on my feet and live another day.

Neal Conway

Tales From Old Bethesda book signing, Borders, 1996

Volunteer Work

When I became a Third Degree member of The Knights of Columbus (knighted by my father with tears in his eyes; you don't forget that), I served as community service chairman at my council and editor of The Chatterbox column in the council newsletter. Around the same time, I worked closely with the saintly Rev. Mr. George Koback in raising money to "fight loneliness and depression" among the poor residents of a local nursing home. Of all the things I've done that is the one I'm most proud of. Deacon George's last act before he died in 1995 was to bring communion to me and my ailing father.

For several years I was a Minister of The Word (Lector). When I worked at Congressional Quarterly, I was able to go to daily Mass at The Cathedral of St. Matthew, which inspired the Daily Mass In Downtown Washington, DC web pages, and which led to my becoming a Eucharistic Minister (EMC) at the cathedral. Although I can no longer attend daily Mass, I'm usually at St. Matthew's every Ash Wednesday, imposing ashes and distributing communion at three midday Masses.

Lastly, I was a music minister, singing for several years in a parish choir when it had an excellent music minister. I learned a lot, the chief lesson being that anyone can sing.

Interests: Many. I've always been a collector of collections, but time and circumstances have narrowed them down to trains, 78 rpm records and (informally) books.

Neal Conway

On the Hay-Adams rooftop deck, 2009.

I actually think it's less than ideal for writers to write about themselves because writing about ourselves is one of our temptations. That readers enjoy personal stories doesn't help. However and perhaps because of my Polish ancestry, I think my experience has given me something to offer the Catholic world, and I enjoy recalling happy days and being able to tease out the humor in some that were less than happy. More about me is sprinkled throughout the essays at