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A Post-Boehner Era Ash Wednesday

Boehner spoke about Ash Wednesday in his first speech after taking the speaker's gavel in 2011. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Boehner spoke about Ash Wednesday in his first speech after taking the speaker's gavel in 2011. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In former Speaker John A. Boehner’s first speech after taking the gavel in January 2011, he referred to Ash Wednesday in an attempt to humble Congress.  

“In the Catholic faith, we enter into a season of service by having ashes marked on our foreheads,” the Ohio Republican said. “The ashes remind us that life in all its forms is fragile — our time on this Earth, fleeting. As the ashes are delivered, we hear those humbling words: ‘Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’” He continued: “The American people have humbled us.  They have refreshed our memories as to just how temporary the privilege to serve is.”  

According to David Schnittger, Boehner’s former deputy chief of staff and now a spokesman for the former speaker, Boehner felt it important to parallel Ash Wednesday’s message and a call to recommit Congress to concepts of humility.  

Ash Wednesday is the first day of the Lenten season, a time of fasting and prayer leading up to Easter.  

“No matter what else was going on, Speaker Boehner always took time to observe Ash Wednesday during his speakership, as many Catholic members on both sides of the aisle do every year,” Schnittger, who is now a senior policy adviser at Squire Patton Boggs, told HOH.  

A few times during his tenure, the House Chaplain would administer ashes to Boehner in the speaker’s office, often times in the midst of “some very intense legislative crises,” Schnittger said.  

“It was a powerful Lenten experience for a few of the Catholics on his staff who were blessed enough to witness it and be part of it,” he said.  

Speaker Paul D. Ryan is also Catholic and plans to receive ashes on Wednesday. Members and staff are invited to Ash Wednesday services on the Hill with the House Chaplain, the Rev. Patrick Conroy. Services will last less than 30 minutes and take place at 11 a.m. in 1100 Longworth, 1 p.m. in the Cannon Caucus room and 3:30 p.m. in 2175 Rayburn.  

Contact Gangitano at and follow her on Twitter at @AlexGangitano.

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