Combat Veteran Chaplain Finds 'Young Energy' at Viterbo

Saturday, November 12, 2011

It's 9 in the morning. Father Conrad Targonski, OFM, 62, has just finished his daily 5K run, and it's clear he is not out of breath.

Father Conrad
Fr. Conrad Targonski, OFM

Though retired from the Navy after 22 years as a chaplain, this motorcycle-riding Franciscan friar who had been involved in the Fallujah offensive in Iraq, is far from done serving.

Targonski arrived at Viterbo University in March 2011 to fill the very large void left when Viterbo's previous priest, the Rev. Tom O'Neill, a former Jesuit, died in 2009. He had served at Viterbo since 1994.

The position of university chaplain remained unfilled for 18 months while Viterbo, a values-based school in the tradition of St. Francis of Assisi, searched for a good fit.

Targonski is the first Franciscan friar to serve at Viterbo as its chaplain and has been joined by two other friars who minister to St. Rose Convent and the Mayo Health Center.

"Father Conrad is a real gift to Viterbo and our community," said Rick Artman, university president.

"His life experiences help him relate extremely well with students. He also is very well versed in the scriptures, very knowledgeable about other religions, and he is an excellent homilist. He is a perfect fit for Viterbo."

Students agree.

"Father Conrad is really good with the students. He's very approachable and easy to get along with. He's also an excellent listener," said Emily Ackerman, a freshman who is enrolled in a work study in Viterbo.

In his time at Viterbo, Targonski has often spoken of the university's "young energy," which, he said, is "framed by a Franciscan vision, going back to St. Francis, who had his conversion at 24. He was college age. He was a prisoner of war."

St. Francis of Assisi realized his war experiences helped him inspire change and keep change going. "The young energy I see here is very, very tangible," Targonski said.

Targonski sees his own ties to the military as helpful to his work at Viterbo.

Of his experience in war, he said, "it shaped me incredibly, beyond my wildest dreams. I was put in a situation where I was dealing with people from all different parts of the world."

Being stationed in Japan also inspired him, the Chicago native said. "That situation, being with the Okinawan people, changed me. They have the longest longevity because of their diet and their attitude and their reverence with the Earth," he said.

Targonski said he thinks Viterbo's core values of contemplation, integrity, service and stewardship, as well as its focus on ethics, is not that different from the Okinawan culture.

"We Americans have a hard time bowing," he said. "In Japan, they smile and they bow. There's a lot we can learn from them."