For the first time in American history, a woman will serve as House chaplain.
Retired Rear Adm. Margaret G. Kibben was announced Thursday as Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s choice to be the next House chaplain, replacing the retiring Rev. Patrick J. Conroy. Kibben will be the first female chaplain for either chamber.
Kibben was the first woman to serve as chief of Navy chaplains, serving from 2014-2018 in that role, and was previously chaplain of the Marine Corps.
Her arrival on Capitol Hill will mean that both the House and Senate chaplains will be retired chief chaplains of the Navy, with longtime Senate Chaplain Barry Black having led the Navy’s chaplains from 2000 through 2003. Earlier in her military career, Kibben was the senior chaplain serving in Afghanistan, according to the announcement from Pelosi’s office.
In addition to the visible role giving the opening prayer in the House, the chaplain provides an assortment of pastoral services to members and congressional staffers. There are a number of prayer services and events regularly hosted by the chaplain's office, reflecting multiple faith traditions.
Kibben’s selection came as the result of a bipartisan process, and Pelosi said that both she and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., agreed on the choice.
“Her integrity, experience and patriotism will serve the Congress and the Country well, as she ministers to the needs of Members,” Pelosi said in a statement. “This historic appointment was made possible by the values-based leadership of Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, and I thank him and all Members of the bipartisan group leading the search ... for their successful work. Their recommendation was accepted by Leader McCarthy and me.”
Kibben is a Presbyterian minister, the first from that particular denomination to hold the position since Rev. Bernard Braskamp, who served in the 1950s and 1960s. Fox News first reported the pending appointment.
While House chaplains are typically elected alongside other House officers at the start of each Congress (and often re-elected) Conroy’s tenure was almost cut short in 2018 as part of a rather unusual saga.
Then-Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin moved to push out Conroy, a Jesuit priest, but the effort faced pushback from Democrats led by then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is Catholic — and from a few Republicans.
“The service of Father Pat Conroy has been a blessing to Members on both sides of the aisle,” Pelosi said. “Throughout his service, Father Pat fulfilled the calling of St. Ignatius of Loyola: ‘for the greater glory of God.’ His service has been a spiritual and moral anchor for Members, grounding our institution in the values of faith and country and reminding our Members of our responsibilities to our great nation and constituents. All Members wish Father Pat well as he enjoys his well-deserved retirement from the House.”