With the year-end announcement that Jesuit Father Pat Conroy would be retiring as chaplain of the House of Representatives, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that for the first time, a woman will take over the post.
In a Dec. 31, 2020, press release, Pelosi announced that Rear Admiral Margaret Grun Kibben would replace Father Conroy, who has served as the 60th House chaplain since 2011.
Kibben, a Presbyterian minister, will be “the first woman to serve in this historic position, which has been enshrined in our Democracy since the First Congress in 1789,” said Pelosi, D-California.
“Kibben brings decades of decorated experience in the military and the ministry, as a retired Rear Admiral who served as the U.S. Navy’s Chief Chaplain and the chaplain of the Marine Corps. Her integrity, experience and patriotism will serve the Congress and the country well, as she ministers to the needs of members,” the statement said.
The House chaplain is responsible for offering a prayer at the beginning of each day when Congress is in session. The nondenominational prayer in the House chamber is broadcast live on HouseLive.gov and on C-SPAN. It’s also archived in the Congressional Record and is part of the official rules of the House to get the day started.
Father Conroy, a lawyer, made headlines in April 2018 when then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan asked for and received his resignation even though the priest made it clear that he didn’t want to leave the post.
Some speculated then that a prayer at a time when politicians were weighing a tax cut that largely benefited the rich, an effort spearheaded by Ryan, is what set off the dismissal.
“May all members be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle. May their efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans,” Father Conroy prayed as lawmakers considered the tax bill.
A native of Warrington, Pennsylvania, Kibben entered active duty in the U.S. Navy in 1986 following studies for a bachelor’s degree from Goucher College in Towson, Maryland. She received both her Masters of Divinity and her Doctor of Ministry degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey. She holds a master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College. Kibben was a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace.
Kibben’s Marine Corps assignments have included Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, where she served with Headquarters and Service Battalion, Security Battalion, the Brig, Marine Corps Air Facility and the president’s Helicopter Squadron, HMX-1. She also served with the Marines of Second Force Service Support Group Camp Lejeune, N.C., making deployments to both Turkey and Norway. Later she was assigned to the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico as the doctrine writer for Religious Ministry.
Kibben’s Navy assignments include the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland as the first female chaplain. She was the Navy Chaplain Corps historian at the Chaplain Resource Board and the command chaplain, USS San Diego (AFS-6), in Norfolk, Virginia. As U.S. 3rd Fleet chaplain, Kibben was responsible for the training and certification of all carrier strike group and expeditionary strike group religious ministry teams. She completed a deployment as the command chaplain, Combined Forces Command Afghanistan as an individual augmentee.
Kibben was detailed to the Office of the Chief of Navy Chaplains, first serving as the director for Force Structure and Community Management and then as the executive assistant to the chief of Navy Chaplains.
Kibben was the 18th Chaplain of the United States Marine Corps (CHMC) and the Deputy Chief of Chaplains of the United States Navy. She was the first woman to hold this office.