Not many Americans know that the U.S. House of Representatives begins each day with a prayer. Fewer still know that it is the responsibility of the Chaplain of the House to lead that prayer.
Patrick J. Conroy, S.J., has held the position of chaplain of the House since May 2011, when he was nominated by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), in consultation with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). He was elected by the House as its 60th chaplain.
Conroy recently visited the Center for Ignatian Spirituality at LMU to talk “Faith in the Public Square,” and offered some insights into the interaction of religion and politics.
Before he joined the Jesuits in 1973, Conroy had planned a political career. “The reason I went to Claremont McKenna College and the reason I went to [Gonzaga University’s] law school was I planned to be a senator from the state of Washington,” he said. “When I joined the Jesuits, I pretty much figured that’s the end of that plan. And I was fine with that, because I felt called. So, 40 years later, it was being suggested that I apply for a position that would put me in the House of Representatives.”
During the interview with Boehner and Pelosi, the Speaker asked Conroy what he was doing at that time. Conroy, remembering his brief theater lessons from college, said, “Well, actually I do improvisational theater five times a day for 50 minutes: I teach high school freshmen theology.” Boehner laughed and suggested that that might be the best preparation for the House job.
Conroy figures that, going by the Congressional Directory, about 33 percent of the House members are Catholic; about 65 percent are denominationally Christian. There are two Muslims and 15 Jewish representatives, three Buddhists, one Hindu and “a smattering of atheists.” He said that their comfort with him, in his position, has as much to do with their individual personalities than it does with religion.
His daily prayers are inclusive, “thanking God for giving us another day, and that He give the members wisdom, knowledge and understanding that they might do the best they can for the benefit of the nation and our world.”