Nearly one third of Congress is Catholic, and that made Tuesday, the feast day of Saint Blaise of Sebaste, a busy one for House Chaplain the Rev. Patrick J. Conroy.
The Jesuit priest, decked out in a scarlet stole to commemorate the martyred bishop, stationed himself in the ornate Speaker's Lobby during House votes to celebrate the sacramental Blessing of the Throats. When Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva approached, Conroy pressed two red candles just below the turquoise bolo tie of the Arizona Democrat and prayed that he be cured of any throat ailments. A minute later, Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, — one of 168 Roman Catholics in Congress, according to data compiled by CQ Roll Call — was up, lifting his chin to Conroy.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., an Episcopalian, declined the blessing, but was curious to hear more about Saint Blaise.
Conroy explained that Saint Blaise's protection of those with throat troubles comes from a legend that a boy was brought to him who had a fishbone stuck in his throat, and Blaise saved him. "I don't know if it was a Heimlich maneuver," Conroy added later.
At one point a small line formed for the blessing, with Tennessee Republican Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., bringing up the rear. Up front was Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., who promised to drag his pal, Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., out of the chamber to receive Conroy's blessing.
Conroy told CQ Roll Call he spent the morning delivering the sacramental to staffers in his Capitol basement office. "Go back and tell your boss I'm looking for him," advised the priest, who was nominated by Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, a Roman Catholic, in 2011. He became the first Jesuit priest to hold the role, and 60th in a long line of Christian chaplains.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., clashed with Boehner over the nomination after learning he worked for a Jesuit group ordered to pay $166 million for more than 400 claims of child sexual abuse. But she recanted, saying she was satisfied with the pick, a day after Roll Call reported on the tiff.
Pelosi made a rare appearance in the Speaker's Lobby Tuesday, approaching Conroy with a big smile for a blessing of her throat.
"This is exactly what a chaplain is for," Conroy said a few minutes later. "They have this in their home parish. It's their free exercise of religion that's taking place when they're home. But these people serve the government and are called away from the home and they have the right to exercise their religion. So, on a day like today, the chaplain is providing that because they're not home to have this special blessing."
During a second series of votes late Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Virginia Foxx sought out the blessing, hoping to cure strained vocal chords before a big day of debating legislation and introducing amendments. Conroy assured the North Carolina Republican she would be healed, and notice a difference. "You'll feel it," he urged.
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