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U.S. House chaplain, a fellow Jesuit, hopes for the rare honor of blessing the pope

Pope Francis makes his way into the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

Pope Francis makes his way into the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

(Mindy Schauer / Associated Press)

The Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, the chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, has been thinking for some time about what he’ll say when he greets Pope Francis at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday.

“I’ve decided I’m going to ask him if I can bless him,” Conroy said recently. “What’s he going to say?”

Kidding aside, Conroy said the gesture would fit Francis’ humble style. He noted that just after his election to the papacy, one of Francis’ first acts was to ask the crowd in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City to pray for him.

“And of course, it just takes a second, so nobody will get bent out of shape,” Conroy said.

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When Francis arrives at the East Front of the Capitol on Thursday, the history-making pontiff will be greeted by a history-making chaplain.

Conroy, the 60th chaplain in the history of the House, is only the second Catholic to serve, and, like Francis, is the first in his role to come from the Jesuit order. He took the office in 2011 after being nominated by House Speaker John A. Boehner, who attended a Jesuit college, Xavier University in Cincinnati.

Conroy hadn’t set out to join the priesthood after he received his bachelor’s degree from then-Claremont Men’s College, now Claremont McKenna College. In fact, he did have a political goal: to be a senator from the state of Washington. But he was called to the priesthood while attending law school; he later earned his master’s degree in divinity from the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University.

Thursday marks yet another unexpected turn for Conroy: the chance to welcome the first pope to address a joint meeting of Congress. Blessing Pope Francis, should he get to do so, would follow another humbling experience from this spring.

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Conroy had twice served as a campus minister at Washington’s Georgetown University, including when Hunter Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden, attended.

When Hunter’s older brother, Beau, died this year, Conroy asked whether he could attend the funeral. The Bidens welcomed him, and he was ultimately assigned to offer Communion and blessings to attendees during the Mass. The first mourners to come forward to his station: President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, former President Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch.

“Now, it’s an honor to meet these kinds of people. But to actually pray a blessing — that’s the coolest thing I’ve done,” Conroy said. “The pope’s next.”

michael.memoli@latimes.com

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Twitter: @mikememoli


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