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Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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St. John Vianney students utilize teleconference to interview House of Representatives chaplain

by Zoe Cross and Eric Shillinger, for the Inland Register

(From the Feb. 8, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

“I was inspired to become a priest in the sixth grade. We were in church saying the Stations of the Cross and I just knew it.”

So said Father Daniel Coughlin, the first Catholic chaplain of the United States House of Representatives, during a teleconference with seventh and eighth grade students at St John Vianney School, Spokane. Mark Hartley is the students’ teacher.

Father Coughlin was nominated to be the House chaplain amid controversy earlier this year. About that controversy, Father Coughlin said, “It was blown completely out of proportion.”

He acknowledges, however, that because of that controversy, “everybody knows who I am.”

Though his appointment was controversial, the swearing-in ceremony was a very simple affair. “It was a basic ceremony — like the swearing in of a president. All I did was raise my right hand, recite an oath and I was in.”

When students asked what were the duties of the House chaplain, Father Coughlin answered that they are essentially two-fold.

First, every session must begin with a prayer. So everyday, Father Coughlin writes a new prayer for each session of Congress.

Secondly, he ministers to and advises a “parish” of 435 Congressmen, their families and staff. It is Father Coughlin’s hope to get to know each and every member of the House personally.

Asked about some of the “perks” of his office, Father Coughlin laughed. His pay was one, he said. It was “more than I ever expected to make as a priest.” When a student asked how much that pay was, he replied that he gets paid the same amount of money as any congressman. The Chaplain’s Office is part of the House of Representatives and he has the same rights and privileges.

He added, “The archbishop who nominated me for this position expects me to be very generous with that money.”

“Besides the pay, my favorite perk is my parking space at the airport,” Father Coughlin said. A reserved parking area is set aside for all representatives, saving hours of time searching for a space. He also enjoys the privilege of flying in Air Force jets.

In addition to answering questions about his chaplain duties, Father Coughlin talked about growing up Catholic and going to Catholic school.

“I enjoyed getting good grades and spelling bees but didn’t enjoy the playground behavior of some of the boys,” he said, laughing. “I suspect things aren’t very much different today.”

Father Coughlin told the students about meeting Mother Teresa, whom he characterized as “a very challenging person.” Everything she did and said challenged his faith to action, to get involved.

Father Coughlin worked in India at the Dispensary of the Dying, a place where people who have no more chances in life go to spend their final hours on this earth.

Preparing for the teleconference, the students at St. John Vianney had researched Father Coughlin and the controversy surrounding his appointment. Students then brain-stormed and formulated questions to ask the priest. Questions were edited and then put into a logical order. Students used a microphone to ask the questions and everyone present could hear the answers and take notes.

Father Coughlin ended the 35-minute teleconference by saying this about what he wants to accomplish as House Chaplain. “God has a purpose for me on this earth. I want to leave a lasting impression. I want to serve well both my country and my God.”

Hartley’s students have had teleconferences before. Mario Andretti had agreed to be interviewed by Hartley’s sixth grade class.

“Teleconferences are a marvelous teaching tool. They allow the students to step away from the textbooks and get first-hand information and insights that a text simply cannot supply,” said Hartley.

He hopes to do more.

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