- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Rev. Robert Joseph Riley, a Catholic priest and former Navy chaplain, died Dec. 28 at George Washington University Hospital in the District from head injuries suffered when he fell from a landing at St. Dominic Parish in Southwest. He was 80.

Father Riley was born July 3, 1926, in Boston.

He worked at the Boston Globe twice in the 1940s and 1950s in the advertising and stereotyping division. His father and grandfather also had worked at the newspaper.

In 1944, Father Riley enlisted in the Navy at the Naval Training Station in Samson, N.Y. After two years of active duty, he was honorably discharged as yeoman second class, but remained in the Navy Reserve until 1953.

Father Riley received a bachelor’s degree from Providence College in Providence, R.I., in 1954 and that same year joined the Dominican Order. In 1959, he earned an bachelor’s degree in sacred theology from the Immaculate Conception College at the Dominican House of Studies in Northeast.

He was ordained to the priesthood in 1960 at St. Dominic Parish.

In the 1960s, he served as pastor of St. Dominic Priory in Youngstown, Ohio, and then Holy Name of Jesus Church in Valhalla, N.Y.

In 1966, Father Riley rejoined the Navy as a Roman Catholic chaplain. For the next 21 years, he moved around the world, including service aboard the USS Cherokee and the USS Kitty Hawk. He rose to the rank of captain.

Father Riley was the recipient of many military awards, including two Navy Commendation Medals.

The Rev. James Muller, who also served in the Navy and attended chaplain school with Father Riley, said the two frequently teased each other because Father Muller became Father Riley’s religious superior even though Father Riley outranked him in the military.

He said Father Riley’s faith and sense of humor made him a good chaplain.

“Anytime someone on the ship has a problem, they say ‘go see the chaplain,’ ” Father Muller said. “You have to be faithful to be a chaplain in the military. It’s a very difficult job.”

In 1987, Father Riley retired from the Navy, but he continued to celebrate Mass at the Pentagon almost daily and preached frequently at St. Dominic.

Maj. Alan Pomaville, the deputy Pentagon chaplain, said Father Riley was an “incredibly godly man” who frequently advised his peers on the benefits of laughter.

“In his experience, he learned to trust God and have a sense of humor through the good and the bad,” Maj. Pomaville said.

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