The recent recipient of a new hip joint that makes him feel like a “rock star,” 74-year-old Fr. Conrad Targonski is still going strong as Viterbo University chaplain. A member of the Franciscan Friars of the Assumption, Iraq War veteran, and conversant speaker of four languages, Fr. Conrad was recently honored with the prestigious Iverson Freking Ecumenical Recognition Award.
Q. Was it an honor to receive the Iverson Freking Award for your work with students, veterans, and community members of all faith traditions?
A. I considered it more of an honor for Viterbo and the friars. When I was a military chaplain, our guiding principle was “provide for our own, facilitate for others, and care for all.” We’re all brothers and sisters. I remember something my grandmother said many years ago in response to questions about attending a friend’s funeral in a protestant church at a time when doing so was controversial. “I’ll go anywhere God is praised.”
Q. What is a favorite memory of your time as a U.S. Navy Chaplain?
A. I was stationed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. On Sundays while at sea, I would be transported via helicopter to each of the five ships in the battle group to say Mass. One of the ships didn’t have a helipad, so I was lowered to the deck with a cable and harness. That was exciting.
Q. Why is ministering to fellow veterans your passion?
A. I was on the front lines with the Marines in the battle of Fallujah. War is horrific, and I witnessed a great deal of carnage. Like many veterans, I still deal with PTSD. I want to help others heal, so I provide counseling and have led numerous veteran pilgrimages to Assisi, Italy.
Q. You regularly provide meals and other help to people experiencing homelessness in our community. Why is that important to you?
A. I’m tired of just talking about Franciscan values—it’s past time for all of us to do them. As a friar, that’s where I belong. And I think there are many people doing more than I am. On Christmas morning, I went to the emergency shelter to see if they needed anything. I learned the Sisters had already been there.
Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I enjoy exercise and fitness. My spirituality is holistic. I lift weights and have run eight marathons. I’m in great shape and I feel that way. I like country music and travel.
Most of all, I love meeting people and experiencing different cultures and languages. I lived on the Marine base on Okinawa for five years, and I loved getting lost in the city. Other Marines would complain that the signs were in Japanese, but I thought that was part of the fun.
Q. Any plans to retire?
A. The thought never occurred to me.
Like other friars, I’ll retire when I drop. I’d like for my next ministry to be working with migrants at the U.S. Mexico border, but I need to make sure Viterbo has a good new chaplain in place first. I’m often reminded of an elderly nun I met who had composed with Igor Stravinsky.
“Remember Father, the best is yet to come,” she told me as she hobbled away.