Chaplain of the House of Reps makes trip to Final Four to support Zags
Fr. Pat Conroy’s face lights up when he draws on the “wonderful” memories of Gonzaga basketball from when he was a grad student.
It was the mid-'70s, the team was a perennial .500, seats were aplenty and lines were nonexistent. He recalls one specific game, a showdown between a top-bill San Francisco team with eventual NBA players Bill Cartwright and Quintin Dailey, where GU upset the Dons in the (then) Spokane Coliseum.
But outside of Spokane, the name “Gonzaga” didn’t travel far back then.
“To see somebody with anything ‘Gonzaga’ was like a rare bird,” Conroy said. “There was no bling with Gonzaga back in the day, let me tell you. We didn’t see a lot of star power.”
Last weekend, Conroy — the Chaplain for the U.S. House of Representatives — attended the Zags’ Final Four win over South Carolina, and the NCAA National Championship loss to North Carolina Monday, donning his new Final Four polo with the Bulldog logo. It’s the same polo he wore underneath his vestments on Sunday during a GU Mass in the Sheraton Grand in downtown Phoenix.
On the warm Arizona Sunday morning, Conroy shook hands with red-and-blue clad Parishioners exiting the ballroom. A palpably cheerful buzz permeated the room as the families, donors and other Zags dispersed.
In Washington — D.C., not state — Conroy's Zag fandom is well known, along with Denny Heck, a congressman from Washington State's 10th district.
"Let me tell you, everyone in U.S. Congress knows that Denny Heck and Father Pat are Zags," Conroy said.
Of the five colleges he attended through extensive postgraduate schooling, not including the ones he worked at as a Jesuit, Conroy roots the loudest and proudest for the Zags.
“Going back 20 years when I was a chaplain at Georgetown and Gonzaga was going to the tournament, I used to put a copy of my master’s diploma taped to the door of my room during March Madness,” Conroy said. “Oftentimes Georgetown wasn’t there. Gonzaga always was.”
He credits his experience in the Gonzaga community as a first-year law student as to why he joined the Jesuits. He lived in Cardinal Bea House across from St. Aloysius Church with other young Jesuits.
“The year before I entered the Jesuits was a great year and part of the reason I entered was because of my year at Gonzaga,” he said. He was immediately immersed in campus ministry, and consistently brought his guitar and acting talents to Waikiki (now known as the Bozarth Mansion).
After becoming a Jesuit, he was reassigned to Spokane to pursue a master’s in philosophy. He quickly endeared himself to the student chapel, and joined the liturgy band. On top of that, he played in a rock band called the “Bea Pigs.”
And proof still exists.
On second floor College Hall a framed picture remembering 1972-73 features a band — his band — performing outside the old C.O.G. Everyone in the photograph is identified except for him, he said with a grin.
Nowadays the Everett, Washington-native seldom returns to Gonzaga. His trips to the Northwest include returns to Portland and to see his brother in Seattle. Every Easter he returns to the Colville Reservation by Coulee Dam, where he used to live after his time at Gonzaga.
It’s the basketball team that connects him most.
“I’m a sports fan,” he said. “I’ve always rooted for teams I have a reason to root for. … It’s great to be a Zag fan in Washington, D.C., all these years.”
Conroy watched former Zags Mike Hart and Kyle Wiltjer go on to fill key roles with the GU basketball team when he taught at Jesuit High School in Portland, his last stop before being appointed and sworn into the role as chaplain of the House of Representatives in May 2011.
Each year he flies to Las Vegas to attend the West Coast Conference tournament.
In his five and a half years in the House, he’s interacted with the presidents and members of the Cabinet on a regular basis. When Pope Francis was on his United States tour in 2015, Conroy blessed him when he visited Washington, D.C.
Through it all, his Zag fandom has never wavered.
He reckons the biggest sporting event he’s ever been to was the franchise-defining Game 3 of the 1995 Mariners-Yankees series in the Kingdome. If he were to have dug deeper, the USF-GU game in the '70s was likely high on the list.
But watching his alma mater play in the Final Four and national championship?
“I’ve never been to a Final Four,” he said, then shrugged.” I guess it is the biggest.”