Lincoln’s Bishop James Conley Joins College’s Board of Directors
Bishop James Conley, head of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, and a strong friend, supporter, and advisor of Wyoming Catholic College since before it first opened, has joined its Board of Directors. “From the very beginning of the College’s existence,” says Bishop Conley, “I have been convinced that God has called Wyoming Catholic to play a profound role in our society and in our Church. I am grateful for the opportunity to join her board, and to lend myself even more passionately to the growth and success of such a vital institution.”
President Kyle Washut is deeply thankful for the Bishop’s acceptance of the position. “There are few people who better understand and love Wyoming Catholic College,” Washut says. “I look forward to drawing upon his wealth of experience, particularly his own personal experience with the thoughts and writings of John Senior, who has had such an important influence on Wyoming Catholic College. Welcome, Bishop!”
The Board’s chairman, Bill Sniffin, echoes President Washut’s sentiments. “I think Bishop Conley’s addition to our Board is just tremendous,” says Sniffin. “As another supporter who has watched this wonderful college—‘Our Lady’s College,’ as we like to call her—grow from the most unassuming of seeds, I know how important it is to truly love what we’re trying to accomplish here in Lander, and to have a clear vision of just how great an impact this place will have. It’s a great blessing for us to be joined on the board by such a friend of the College, and one who has been here from the very beginning.”
As alluded to by both Sniffin and Washut, the Bishop’s history with Wyoming Catholic is a rich and lengthy one, including serving on the board that was convened back in the earliest days of its existence, when the College was little more than an idea, accidentally—or better, Providentially—proposed by Bishop Ricken’s “yet” at the 2003 Wyoming School of Catholic Thought.
Bishop Conley has visited the College a number of times over the ensuing years, including serving as its Commencement Speaker in May, 2014, delivering a speech that was later converted into the College’s inaugural “Integritas” publication. (At that Commencement ceremony, the Bishop received the College’s Sedes Sapientia Award, given each year in recognition of “a Catholic who has made an outstanding contribution to articulating and defending the Faith in today’s Church.”)
In his speech that year, the Bishop reminded the Class of 2014 that the education they had received at Wyoming Catholic “has prepared you to direct yourselves to the ends and purposes proper to Christians. The gospel teaches us that the mission of a Christian is to ‘go out to all the world, proclaiming the gospel to everyone!’ …[B]y all the metrics that matter, because of your education and formation at Wyoming Catholic College, each of you is immeasurably rich.”
Since his priestly ordination in 1985, Bishop Conley has served the Catholic Church in a wide variety of ways—as pastor, college campus chaplain, director of Respect Life ministries, theology instructor, Vatican official and bishop. In all of these tasks, he has seen his life as a priest as a call to service and complete surrender to “God’s providential hand.”
Born March 19, 1955, in Kansas City, Mo., Bishop Conley is the son of the late Betty and Carl Conley, long-time residents of Overland Park, Kan., a suburb of Kansas City. When he was two years old, his family moved to Denver, Colo., and then two years later moved to Arvada, Colo., where Bishop Conley attended public school at Hoskinson Cottage School. The family moved back to Kansas when he was 8 years old and resided in Overland Park, where he attended public grade school and high school.
In 1973, Bishop Conley graduated from Shawnee Mission West High School in Overland Park and enrolled in the fall as a freshman at University of Kansas. While in college, he studied in the University of Kansas’s famous Integrated Humanities Program—the same program attended by Dr. Bob Carlson (one of WCC’s three founders and its original Academic Dean), and one that exerted a tremendous influence on the curriculum, vision, and ethos of Wyoming Catholic.
He converted to the Catholic Church on Dec. 6, 1975, and his mentor and teacher in the Integrated Humanities Program, Professor John Senior, was his godfather. He graduated in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in English literature, and three years later, he entered seminary for the Diocese of Wichita. He received philosophical formation at St. Pius X Seminary in Erlanger, Ky., and his theological formation at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., where in 1985 he earned a master’s degree in divinity. In 1989, his bishop sent him to Rome, where he earned a licentiate in moral theology from the Accademia Alfonsiana, part of the Faculty of Theology at the Pontifical Lateran University.
On May 18, 1985, Bishop Conley was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Wichita. In 1991, after earning his licentiate in Rome, he was appointed pastor of St. Paul Parish (Newman Center) on the campus of Wichita State University, while continuing his service as director of the Respect Life Office. He had the privilege in 1991 of baptizing both his mother and father and receiving them into the Catholic Church.
Bishop Conley was called back to Rome in 1996 to serve the Holy See as an official in the Vatican Congregation for Bishops. In Rome, he also served as chaplain to the University of Dallas Rome Campus from 1997 to 2003 and as adjunct instructor of theology for Christendom College Rome Campus from 2004 to 2006. Bishop Conley was called back to Wichita in 2006, and 0n April 10, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI announced his appointment as auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Denver. He was ordained to that role on May 30, 2008, the solemnity of the Sacred Heart.
In September, 2011, due to the appointment of Archbishop Chaput as archbishop of Philadelphia, Bishop Conley was named apostolic administrator of the Denver Archdiocese until Bishop Samuel Aquila was installed as archbishop of Denver in July of the following year. On Sept. 14, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop Conley as the bishop of the Lincoln Diocese in Nebraska, and he was installed as the ninth Bishop of Lincoln on Nov. 20, 2012. Himself a convert to the Catholic faith, Bishop Conley chose the same motto as the great 19th-century English convert, John Henry Cardinal Newman, “cor ad cor loquitur,” which means “heart speaks to heart.” “The idea,” Bishop Conley says, “is that true and authentic friendship (heart speaking to heart) is what we all seek. We experience this kind of friendship here on earth, but we also can experience this kind of authentic friendship/love with God. We all desire true and authentic friendship/love because every human being was created to love and to be loved.”