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Episcopal monk visits Utah to speak at Lenten services

Published March 14, 2014 4:23 pm

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Growing up as a Catholic, James Michael Dowd was drawn to the religious life.

At 19, the earnest believer from Queens, N.Y., joined a religious order, but soon realized it was not for him. Instead, he became a theater director, a job that thrilled and delighted him for 25 years.

Slowly, Dowd found his spirituality moving away from the faith of his childhood and toward the Episcopal Church, which seemed a better fit.

The American wing of Anglicanism had a very similar liturgy to the one he grew up with but without the opposition to women's ordination and gay rights. In 1998, he converted.

Before long, Dowd began thinking about formal ministry again. He talked to his Episcopal priest but nothing seemed to click.

That is, until his parish went on retreat to Holy Cross Episcopal Monastery in West Park, N.Y.

"When I walked into it, I said out loud, 'This is it.' I just knew it," Dowd recalled.

Now known as Brother James, Dowd has been at the monastery since 2004, taking his vows in 2006.

"It was the best decision of my life," he said in a phone interview.

Dowd will be a Lenten guest speaker for Utah's Episcopal Diocese from March 19 through 22, speaking during services and meeting with members and other religious leaders in small groups.

It is his first trip to the Beehive State.

Holy Cross was founded in 1884 by James Otis Sargent Huntington, according to its website, "to provide a specifically North American expression of monasticism."

The monks there take vows of obedience, stability and conversion to the monastic way of life as spelled out in the Rule of St. Benedict, named for a Catholic saint.

It includes clearly spelled out prayer times, intense scripture study and up to 12 hours a day of silence.

St. Benedict preached, Dowd said, that "the man who was interested in joining a monastery was a man who wanted to spend his life searching for Christ. There is an assumption that he has both found Christ and is still searching."

That fit rather perfectly with Dowd's desire.

"For me that was and is the motivating factor," he said.

His main ministry is running Holy Cross's guesthouse, which hosts thousands of people every year.

"They come looking to enter monastic spirituality," Dowd said. "They feel some kind of connection to the prayer life, in silence and community."

Today's world is incredibly fast-paced and loud, he said. People are constantly barraged with audio and visual noise. Visitors flock to the monastery to "get a sense of something bigger than themselves."

Even when there is a chaos all around Dowd said, "you can maintain equilibrium inside you." —

Lenten retreat events with Brother James Michael Dowd

Episcopal Diocese of Utah

March 19, 6:30-8 p.m. • Spiritual evening with free soup and salad (by reservation) and presentation on "Renewing the Soul."

March 20, 10:10 a.m. • Mass with reflections, followed by conversations at lunch.

March 21, 12:10 p.m. • Mass with reflections, followed by a local religious leaders lunch at 12:30.

March 22, 11a.m.-2p.m. • aRetreat with a free lunch (by reservation)

March 23 • Dowd will preach at the 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. services

To register for these events, call 801-322-3400.