By Doris Yu
October 11, 2013 — Amid the current gridlock in Congress and the federal government shutdown, Jesuit Father Pat Conroy, chaplain to the United States House of Representatives since 2011, asked others to recall the humanity in their peers at a Loyola Club luncheon in Washington, D.C., yesterday.
The Loyola Club gathers Jesuit-educated alumni and friends for food, fellowship and inspiration, bringing D.C.-area leaders with Jesuit connections to speak at regularly-scheduled luncheons. Each meeting explores ways to apply Jesuit spirituality in everyday life and to use it as a means to strengthen communities.
Fr. Conroy, in his keynote speech, described the significance of Ignatian discernment and obedience throughout his career. Beginning with his calling to the Society of Jesus, to ministering on two American Indian reservations, to switching to university ministry and leading student retreats at Seattle University and Georgetown University and ending with his current assignment as the chaplain of the House, Fr. Conroy spoke about his journey the way he would while leading a retreat. “I think it says a lot about Jesuit spirituality and Jesuit charism and how that plays out in somebody’s life,” he said about the retreat talk format.
He recounted his experiences leading the ESCAPE retreat at Georgetown University, a program he founded in the early 1990s, which has recently been given a new home at the university’s newly-opened Calcagnini Contemplative Center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Bluemont, Va. For Fr. Conroy, retreats were what helped him “come fully alive.”
“That’s what brought me to life: working with young people like this. Because I had my story, I could talk to them and help them to start the discernment process,” said Fr. Conroy, who discovered his love of retreats while studying law at Jesuit universities. “If it’s not giving you life, pay attention to that. Find something that brings you alive, not something that you can brag about and everybody says ‘Great’ and in the meantime you’re dying.”
He discussed his exclusive perspective of Congress, calling attention to the reality that members of Congress do not interact enough on a personal level. “This is a systemic problem in Congress. … Without that human relationship, the only relationship they have is as opponents,” he said.
When asked what spiritual guidance could be given to members of Congress during the shutdown, Fr. Conroy said that the presence of a stronger humanizing element would be most helpful at this point. “The only thing I can do — and this is what I always try to do in all my work — is try to evoke my own humanity and the humanity of the person I’m encountering,” said Fr. Conroy. “They don’t want me to talk about politics, they want me to be that humanizing thing there.”
Fr. Conroy also mentioned his idea to offer a retreat to members of Congress to encourage closer, more genial relationships. “I would like the opportunity to get people together, like on the Jesuit retreats,” he said. “It’s on my horizon, it’s on my radar.”
To learn more about the Loyola Club, visit loyolaclubdc.org.