Sunday, January 15, 2012

Jesuit chaplain seeks to reconcile divided House.

Last May, I noted the nomination of Father Patrick J. Conroy, S.J. as the second Catholic priest - and the first Jesuit - to serve as Chaplain of the United States House of Representatives. New York Times religion reporter Samuel G. Freedman recently caught up with Father Conroy and his Senate counterpart, Reverend Barry C. Black, and offers a profile of the two chaplains focusing on their efforts to bridge the partisan divide on Capitol Hill. Here is a bit of what Freedman has to say about Father Conroy:
The Rev. 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, Father 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.

. . .

Over in the House, Father Conroy prepared for his job in part by reading "American Lion," Jon Meacham’s best seller about Andrew Jackson. The bitter rivalry between Jackson and Henry Clay in Congress has provided him with some assurance that “it’s not an unprecedented thing in American politics for there to be recriminations and a lack of civility.”

Particularly as a Jesuit, though, Father Conroy said he looked to the order’s founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, who taught the importance of recognizing "godliness in the other." (In the saint's time, that meant Protestants, not the Tea Party or liberals.) The chaplain has also been striving to understand why the House can seem so resistant to that generosity of spirit.

"One of the things that's true today that hasn't been true of the past 30 years is that there are fewer civilizing forces," he said in a mid-December interview. "The members’ families don’t live here. It's easier on Friday to get on a plane and go home. So Congressman A's spouse isn't friends with Congressman Z’s. Or their kids don’t play together. You have no social bonding at all. The only relationship those congressmen have is as opponents."
To read the rest, click here. AMDG.


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