US House approves Jesuit priest as next chaplain

Speaker Boehner greets Fr. Pat Conroy and his mother, Ruth, May 25, 2011
Speaker Boehner greets Fr. Pat Conroy and his mother, Ruth, May 25, 2011

.- The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously voted on May 25 to approve Fr. Patrick J. Conroy, S.J., as the next House chaplain.

“Father Pat Conroy comes with a healthy respect for what we do,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D – Calif.), The Hill reports. “It is a beautiful honor steeped in history — deeply personal, free of politics — and we wish him every success in that job.”

He will be the 60th House chaplain, but only the second Catholic priest to serve in that role.

Fr. Conroy told Religion News Service that a chaplain’s role is more like “a counselor” than a pastor.

“As chaplain, I won't be responsible for the religious life of the people working on Capitol Hill, how they practice their faith in their respective congregations,” he said.

Asked whether he would pray “in the name of Jesus,” he responded:

“I never pray in the name of Jesus -- except when I'm doing something Catholic -- saying Mass, for example.”

The priest also discussed how he was interviewed for the position and had to discuss whether there was anything in his past that might become an embarrassment to House Speaker John Boehner, who nominated him. As a member of the Jesuits’ Oregon Province, which has faced major lawsuits for some members’ sexual abuse, Fr. Conroy told congressional staffers that his name might turn up in court documents.

He also discussed a 1986 letter he wrote to an archbishop about a young man who said a priest had propositioned him.

“I didn't hear back from the archbishop. There was no crime committed. I did what I was supposed to do, but the letter did come out later,” he told Religion News Service.

Defenders of Fr. Conroy’s appointment had criticized questions about the priest’s membership in the Oregon Province as an attempt to tar the priest with “guilt by association.”

Ordained in 1983, Fr. Conroy has served as a parish priest in his native Washington state and served the people of the Colville Indian Reservation and the Spokane Indian Reservation. He was chaplain at Georgetown University from 1990 to 1994 and from 1997 to 2003. Between those periods, he served as chaplain at Seattle University.

At present he teaches at Jesuit High school in Portland, Ore.

Catholic priest Fr. Daniel Coughlin, the previous House chaplain, retired in April to widespread praise.

The House chaplain position dates back to 1789, when the Continental Congress began a tradition of having the day’s proceedings open with a prayer.

The chaplain’s present duties include leading the daily prayer, providing counseling and pastoral services, coordinating the scheduling of guest chaplains and helping to arrange memorial services for House members and staff.


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