Posts Tagged ‘Jesuit Father Patrick Conroy’
The 113th Congress recently convened and that means long, busy days ahead for Jesuit Father Patrick Conroy, who serves as the 60th Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The first Jesuit to serve as the chaplain to the House, Fr. Conroy says when he was young his plan was to be a U.S. senator. When Fr. Conroy’s provincial asked him to apply for the chaplain position, Fr. Conroy says, “God didn’t forget my bucket list.”
In this Ignatian News Network video, Fr. Conroy talks about his unique ministry.
Jesuit Father Patrick Conroy, the first Jesuit to serve as chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, recently returned to his alma mater Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., and he compared his current job in the nation’s capital to working on a college campus.
“It’s like ministering to college students,” Fr. Conroy told the Gonzaga Bulletin. “It’s the same thing in that I’m just present and available to talk about what the members are interested in and what their needs are.”
Fr. Conroy, who has been House chaplain for over a year now, has grown accustomed to life in Washington, D.C. He’s even found himself a favorite spot in the building: the Chamber of the House when it’s empty.
“That chamber’s been there for 160 years now, and you know the business and the history that’s gone by in that chamber and that’s currently going on in that chamber,” said Fr. Conroy. “Those times when I’m in there alone are pretty focused. And that’s pretty humbling. That’s a sacred time and space.”
While Fr. Conroy didn’t know Speaker of the House John Boehner before getting the position, they shared a Jesuit connection. Boehner, who graduated from Xavier University in Cincinnati, wanted a Jesuit for the chaplain position.
Now that the House is in recess, Fr. Conroy has plans to spend some time traveling around the country.
“I’m graced with the relationships that I have, and that I’ve been able to have as a Jesuit, and because I’m Jesuit, I get assigned to something like this that includes interacting with all kinds of people, in all kinds of settings,” said Fr. Conroy.
When Fr. Conroy was newly ordained, he ministered to the Colville and Spokane tribes. After his time on the reservation, he worked as a campus minister at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and Seattle University and then taught at Jesuit High School in Portland, Ore. Read more about Fr. Conroy in the Gonzaga Bulletin.
After almost a year as chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, which The New York Times called “one of the most reviled congregations in the country,” Jesuit Father Patrick Conroy was back in Portland for a few days to meet with his Jesuit counterparts. And drop in on the Jesuit High School track team.
Fr. Conroy was a theology teacher at Jesuit High School when the opportunity to be House chaplain arose. He was sworn in May 25 of last year as the chamber’s 60th chaplain. In a recent interview with The Oregonian newspaper, he talked about the challenges of his job and issued one of his own to American citizens.
Is the House the most reviled congregation in the country?
Well, I was a chaplain at San Quentin (prison, California), too — and I’m not making a comparison there.
But there is not a member of the House of Representatives who didn’t make a conscious choice to be a member of the House of Representatives. They knew what they were getting into. I don’t feel like I’m in a room full of people with an approval rating of 12 to 15 percent. That’s not part of my consciousness at all.
What does it feel like?
I am chaplain to a room full of true believers, who are invested in what they stand for and what they are trying to do. A lot of members are quite faith-filled. Some are convicted, and they don’t have crises of faith. Others hope they are being faithful. It’s fascinating to watch.
How do you advise someone in that situation?
Thomas Aquinas tells us to follow our consciences, to be honest with ourselves. If you can’t do that, then we have a crisis.
What’s it like to be well-schooled in Catholic social teaching as Congress grapples with the budget?
There is a strong theology at play: people who believe that taking care of the poor is what churches do, not what government does, that maybe government is over-reaching. But my position is to observe — not to engage in that argument.
I can hear social justice Catholic voices saying that I’m selling out the Gospel by not being that moral voice. But if I were to do that, I would not be in this position.
I’ve studied political science and my early ambition was to be in Congress. But I have prayed, do pray for serenity. I can’t have an opinion. In order to be chaplain I have to let go of this stuff.
What has the past year taught you about yourself?
I’ve always had a soft spot for underdogs. I never rooted for Notre Dame or Georgetown because they always won. But when I was a campus chaplain, I was drawn to the students who didn’t fit the mold. I liked them.
And you’ve found people like that in the House?
What do you say to Americans who have lost their patience with Congress?
Communicate what is important to you to your congressional representative. Even if your (candidate) lost the election, the rep is still representing you.
I pray that all members in Congress will hear the minority voice and that the American people will be prayerfully supportive of Congress and the president, who represent all of us. If we see this as a zero sum battle, it’s going to get ugly.
The New York Times recently featured the work of the two men in the unique position of Congressional Chaplain, and how, among many things, they are working to foster civility between the parties. Jesuit Father Patrick Conroy, who was sworn in the post this past fall, says he looks to the Society’s founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, for guidance in his job, who taught the importance of recognizing “godliness in the other.”
Jesuit Father Patrick J. Conroy invited all the members of the House of Representatives and their families to the holiday reception he was hosting last month as the chamber’s chaplain. He put out hot cider, cookies and a not-quite-functional chocolate fountain, and for the benefit of the children he picked up his folk guitar to perform “The House at Pooh Corner.”
Amid the well-organized cheer, though, Fr. Conroy noticed one subtly disquieting scene. It was apparent that two of his guests, representatives from opposite sides of the partisan aisle, and both sent to Washington to do the nation’s business, had never even spoken directly to each other before.
Nearly five months before that Christmas party, the chaplain of the Senate, the Rev. Dr. Barry C. Black, offered the opening prayer for a rare Sunday session. The Senate was deadlocked along partisan lines on a measure to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. The imminent prospect of a default on government bonds or a downgrade of the federal credit rating had not been enough to overcome the fierce dispute between Democrats and Republicans.
“Save us, O God,” Dr. Black pleaded in his prayer, “for the waters are coming in upon us. We are weak from the struggle. Tempted to throw in the towel. But quitting is not an option.”
In these two episodes, one private and the other very public, one can grasp the unusual and supple roles being played by the House and Senate chaplains. At a time when Congress is stunningly unpopular, with approval ratings in various recent polls around 12 percent, Father Conroy and Dr. Black serve as pastors to what must be one of the most reviled congregations in the country.
That harsh reality puts these clergymen in the position of trying to nurture civility within this fractious flock and trying to explain to a skeptical public that all is not as dire and broken as much of the citizenry plainly believes. They encounter senators and representatives not through speeches and sound bites but as participants in prayer breakfasts and Bible studies, or in casual moments in the Capitol’s cloakroom or restaurant or gym.
Very different paths brought the ministers to their respective roles. Dr. Black, 63, a Seventh-day Adventist, spent 27 years as a Navy chaplain, rising to the rank of rear admiral, before being appointed to the Senate position in 2003. He is the first African-American to be a Congressional chaplain. Father Conroy, 61, a Roman Catholic from the Jesuit order, had devoted much of his career to college chaplaincy and social-justice work. Named to his House post last May, he is even newer to the job than the chamber’s 87 first-term members.
“I’m dealing with a Crock-Pot,” Dr. Black put it, referring to the Senate’s reputation for deliberation. “He’s got a microwave.”
As Christmas approaches, Jesuit Father Patrick Conroy, U.S. House of Representatives chaplain, said there is a sharp contrast between the charitable, peaceful and hopeful nature of the season and the often painfully partisan atmosphere in Congress.
“The political combat that is going on right now, I understand from just about everybody, is as contentious as it’s been in decades,” said Conroy.
Conroy sympathizes with the representatives. The former university chaplain said that much like the students he counseled at Seattle and Georgetown Universities, Congress often has hard tasks to accomplish in the weeks and days leading up to the holidays.
“It is, I think, a tough time for men and women of Congress who are men and women just like the rest of us who have their own hopes, fears, insecurities and brokenness and are trying to do heroic things in service to their country,” he said.
Conroy’s job as the 60th chaplain of the U.S. House of the Representative is, as he described it, to pray for the House as an institution and also for individuals.
Since he became chaplain in May, Conroy navigates the halls of the House, sitting in on floor votes, attending committee meetings (mainly those of the House Rules Committee) and working out in the congressional gym. He maintains a visible profile in the hopes that Congressional members on both sides will visit him for spiritual guidance, help and advice.
Read more about Conroy’s experiences as the U.S. House of Representatives chaplain in this article at the Christian Post.