Founder's Niece Lends Support
'Petie' and other Bishop family descendants carry on values and a strong faith
By Dale Hanson
Elizabeth "Petie" Bishop Conner, 93, of Macon, Ga., has a unique perspective on Glenmary and the priest who made it a reality. As the sole surviving niece of its founder, Father William Howard Bishop, Petie not only cherishes her family's connection with Glenmary, but she and other family members have also continued supporting the society's mission work.
"My dad was Uncle Howard's younger brother, and they were good friends, too," she says. Petie's own brother Harry, 86, is Father Bishop's only surviving nephew and also a Glenmary donor.
Some of her earliest memories of Father Bishop are from times when she and her cousin Eleanor, as teenagers, visited him in Clarksville, Md., where he pastored a rural parish. "This was in the mid-1930s," Petie says. "I was in awe of him because he was a priest."
It was in 1939 that she became more aware of Father Bishop's other work. "That was the year Uncle Howard started Glenmary," Petie says. "That same year, I asked him to preside at my wedding. He said he was really sorry but he couldn't come. Later on I learned why he was so busy."
In the ensuing years, Father Bishop and Petie would not see each other again. Father Bishop was absorbed in expanding his home mission society. Petie and her husband Castex, a career Air Force officer, had begun raising their family. After the United States entered World War II in 1941, the military family moved often as Castex served overseas and at home.
Despite the physical distance between Father Bishop and Petie, they kept up a friendly correspondence and she periodically invited him to visit. In 1953 Father Bishop accepted the couple's invitation to baptize their fifth child. But sadly, just before that day, Father Bishop died of a heart attack.
Cas, Petie and Castex's eldest son, says his parents were faithful, committed Catholics and parents to seven children.
"They brought us up right and taught us biblical values," says Cas, whose father passed away in 2008. "The Bishop family's strong faith was passed down to us. I thank the Lord we've had them as our parents."
Petie gave each of her children a copy of Father Bishop's life story so they'd appreciate their great-uncle's work. "I'm so proud of Uncle Howard for doing such great things that have helped so many people," she says.
Petie and her husband were longtime generous supporters, and Petie has kept on assisting Glenmary. "I also pray for Glenmary every day," she adds. Several other family members have supported Glenmary, too.
"I have a few reasons for donating," says Cas. "Father Bishop was my grandfather's brother and my parents always supported Glenmary. But I also really like the fact that Glenmary does missionary outreach to people in our own country, in Appalachia and other areas, who aren't churchgoers or may not know Jesus as Lord."
Now a grandmother of 15 and great-grandmother of nine, Petie is deeply loved and admired by her family. "She's a loving, dedicated, selfless, funny, giving person," says daughter Jean Dempsey. "And she has such a strong relationship with God."
Petie still reads Glenmary's publications with great interest. And, she says, "I owe it to the Lord and Uncle Howard to keep helping and praying for Glenmary."
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2011 Glenmary Challenge.