A Jesuit chaplain shepherds Congress' divided flock
Jesuit Father Patrick J. Conroy has been the chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives since 2011.
WASHINGTON — In his youth, Jesuit Father Patrick J. Conroy pictured himself as a lawyer and a senator, working in the deep recesses of Washington's U.S. Capitol building. In a way, he's doing just that but not in the way he imagined.
"I'm not in the Senate, I'm in the House," he said inside the Capitol, where his law degree from St. Louis University is perched on the wall of his spacious office, along with a lifetime of memories that include a photo of him blessing Pope Francis during his visit to Congress, and one of him next to the Dalai Lama, as well as souvenirs from the American Indian reservation in Washington state where he once offered his legal services. Photos with students from his 10-year campus ministry stint at Georgetown University also are sprinkled throughout.
While the dreams of his youth, becoming a lawyer and working at the Capitol, have been fulfilled, he didn't initially expect them to come true while wearing an all-black outfit and a Roman collar. In the halls of Congress, just as in the halls of high schools and other places where the Jesuit has worked, he's known as Father Pat and he entered, not as a congressman or senator, but as the 60th chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives May 25, 2011.
How did he get there?
"There's a few answers to that question," said Father Conroy, who loves to tell a story.
"The religious answer that I give … it was an answer to prayer," he said.
"Something political would come on the radio, I would turn into an angry, argumentative … I'd be screaming at the radio and get totally upset, totally upset," he repeated for emphasis. "And after a while, I'm by myself, I'd say 'I have no serenity in the area of politics … I can't do anything about it but I'm all upset about it, and that's not helping me and that's not helping politics any.' So, I started to pray for serenity, and well, I end up in the one job in the United States where I absolutely have to abstain from politics."
The other, and more simple, explanation is that the House speaker at that time, John Boehner, was looking for a chaplain and wanted a Jesuit for the spot. Father Daniel Coughlin, the first Catholic to occupy the position, was looking to retire from the post in 2010 and Boehner had been in talks with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a fellow Catholic, about finding a Jesuit they could both support.
With his background as a lawyer and having lived in Washington during previous posts, Father Conroy, who also holds several degrees in theology, seemed like a natural fit.
As the House chaplain, he is responsible for offering a prayer at the beginning of each day when Congress is in session. The nondenominational prayer in the House chamber is broadcast live on HouseLive.gov and on C-Span. It's also archived in the Congressional Record and is part of the official rules of the House to get the day started.
He listens to the concerns of his unusual spiritual flock and in some cases, he helps politicians discern.
"I think it's why the chaplain's office is important, there's that person in this place, who can actually be honest and actually be human, not political, because everything else here is political, everything," he told CNS.
Catholic father killed protecting fellow passengers
A woman prays at a makeshift memorial May 29 in Portland, Ore., for two men who were killed May 26 on a commuter train while they were trying to defend two young women from a man yelling racial epithets at them aboard a commuter train, said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. Rick Best, a 53-year-old member of Christ the King Parish in Milwaukie, Ore., was one of the victims. In less than a minute, Best and another defender were slain, slashed in the neck in front of horrified onlookers. A third man survived the knife attack. The accused killer, 35-year-old Jeremy Christian, had been on a racially charged rampage. With a history of police run-ins going back 15 years at least, he was caught on camera in April, draped in an American flag and repeatedly yelling bigoted epithets during a demonstration in Portland.
TERRAY SYLVESTER/ REUTERS, cns
||New cardinal from Laos
is ethnic Kmhmú
BANGKOK — Cardinal-designate Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, who will become the first cardinal from Laos, is an ethnic Kmhmú, a hill tribe from northern Laos and southern China.
When St. John Paul II named Cardinal-designate Ling as apostolic vicar of Pakse, Laos, in 2000, the cardinal-designate told ucanews.com, "I never dreamed that this appointment was possible." On May 21, Pope Francis named Ling to the College of Cardinals; he will be elevated in a consistory at the Vatican June 28.
In a country with only about 45,000 Catholics, Cardinal-designate Ling has a method of seminarian education based on lay catechists, reported ucanews.com.
There are about 6,000 Kmhmú in the United States, with 1,000 in the Bay Area.
Noriega dies at 83
WASHINGTON — Panama announced the May 29 death of Manuel Noriega, 83, a former U.S. ally who later became an enemy and dictator of the Central American nation. Noriega's death closes "a chapter of our history," tweeted Panama's president Juan Carlos Varela May 30, adding that "his daughters and family members deserve a funeral in peace." Noriega ruled the country from 1983 until 1989, when the U.S. invaded Panama. U.S. President George H.W. Bush ordered military action after worries about possible disruption of shipping along the strategic Panama Canal and rising tensions with Noriega, who had been indicted in 1988 in the U.S. on charges of money laundering and drug smuggling.
Chapel damaged in fire
TUCSON, Ariz. — A historic Arizona chapel built by artist Ted DeGrazia was heavily damaged in a fire May 29. The blaze destroyed much of chapel's roof and several murals by the late artist. A statement from DeGrazia's Gallery in the Sun posted on its Facebook page May 30 said there was no information on the cause of the fire, which was under investigation. Sitting adjacent to the gallery, the tiny adobe Mission in the Sun is frequented by visitors each day.
WASHINGTON — A tribunal of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services has wrapped up its nearly four-year inquiry into whether the life of Father Vincent R. Capodanno, a Vietnam War hero and Navy chaplain, merits consideration for sainthood. Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, who heads the Washington-based military archdiocese, announced May 21 that the archdiocesan phase in the Maryknoll priest's cause has concluded. The decision clears the way for the tribunal's findings to go to the Vatican's Congregation for Saints' Causes for its review.
INDIANAPOLIS — As Precious Mayfield and Froylan Avila awaited the arrival of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos at their school May 23, the two students talked about the impact that Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis has had on them and their families. All 46 students in the school's class of 2017 have been accepted into college. It's also a model that intrigued DeVos so much that she made a special visit to Providence Cristo Rey as part of her two-day trip to Indianapolis.
Pension plan ruling
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court of the United States, in an 8-0 decision on June 5, ruled that the pension plans of religious hospitals meet religious exemptions from costly regulations. "The Supreme Court got it right," Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at Becket, a legal firm which filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the Catholic health care networks, stated June 5. "Churches — not government bureaucrats and certainly not ambulance chasers — should decide whether hospitals are part of the church." Justice Neil Gorsuch, the newest member of the Court, did not join in the ruling as he had not yet been confirmed to the Court when oral arguments in the case took place March 27.
WASHINGTON — New movies are in the works with distinctively Catholic themes. A documentary featuring the pope, "Pope Francis — A Man of His Word," was bought by Focus Features for later theatrical release. And a dramatization of the Marian apparitions at Fatima, Portugal, starring American actor Harvey Keitel was announced May 18 by Arclight Pictures, at the Cannes Film Festival in France.
Pro-abortion law fought
ST. LOUIS — St. Louis archdiocesan elementary schools, a Catholic-run shelter for homeless pregnant women and a for-profit holding company and its owner have sued the city of St. Louis over a new ordinance they say violates their religious freedom because it grants "protected status" to abortion advocates. The Thomas More Society, a national not-for-profit law firm, filed the lawsuit on the plaintiffs' behalf May 22 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. Enacted in February, the city ordinance provides a protected class status to any woman who chooses to have an abortion and those who support her in that action — while also discriminating against those who promote pro-life alternatives, the lawsuit stated.
Students walk out
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — About 100 graduates of the University of Notre Dame walked out of Vice President Mike Pence's May 21 commencement address as he began to speak. The walkout was planned in advance by a student activist coalition, We StaND For, to protest the university's choice of Pence as graduation speaker. It said the students also wanted to show their disagreement with policies Pence supported as Indiana's governor, including a bill to restrict abortion and a religious freedom law opponents said was aimed at the gay community. The Observer, the student-run newspaper, reported that Pence's words at the start of his address could not be heard over boos from members of the audience who vocalized their objection to the walkout.
Agenda for meeting
WASHINGTON — The proverbial plate is full of issues for U.S. bishops to tackle at their upcoming spring assembly June 14-15 in Indianapolis. They will discuss issues ranging from immigration to religious freedom, as well as the Synod of Bishops on youth and the Fifth National Encuentro gathering, both coming up in 2018.
Father Flanagan's cause
OMAHA, Neb. — The Vatican has taken a key step forward in the sainthood cause of Father Edward J. Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town, local officials said May 15. The Congregation for Saints' Causes found that the Archdiocese of Omaha's three-year investigation into Father Flanagan's life was thorough and without error, and includes evidence of a reputation for sanctity, said Steven Wolf, president of the Father Flanagan League Society of Devotion, which has helped lead the sainthood effort. The Vatican's investigation will continue, Wolf said, and focus on signs of heroic virtue, which could lead to the title "venerable."
Saint relic stolen
A piece of the brain of St John Bosco has been stolen in Italy by a man apparently posing as a pilgrim. Britain's Catholic Herald reported. The man entered the basilica of Castelnuovo, Italy, on June 3 and took the glass reliquary containing part of the saint's brain. Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia of Turin decried the "profound moral misery of someone who would steal a 'sign' that's been left and conserved for the devotion and the faith of all." "I invite who took it to give it back immediately, without conditions," he added, "so we can turn this painful page and continue worthily to honour the memory of Don Bosco in his birthplace."
— Catholic News Service, Catholic News Agency
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