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In this 2018 photo, newly installed Sault Ste. Marie Bishop Thomas Dowd takes a selfie before Pope Francis’ audience with young people and members of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican. CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters

‘God’s will’ leads Dowd to the Soo

  • December 26, 2020

Bishop Thomas Dowd is ready to embrace whatever comes his way as the newly installed Bishop of Sault Ste. Marie in northern Ontario.

Leaving behind his Montreal hometown, where he has spent his entire life and served as auxiliary bishop since 2011, Dowd says the call to a new diocese came as a surprise but one he recognizes as the will of God for the next chapter of his journey — as he came to recognize on a visit to the area earlier this year.

“The weekend before I got the phone call, I was on Manitoulin Island driving back to Montreal,” recalled Dowd. “I drove through the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie and at one point I realized, ‘These people are waiting for their next bishop, I should pray for them and pray for the next bishop, whoever he may be.’

“The day after, I got a phone call (from former papal nuncio Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi) saying, ‘Guess what? You’re the next bishop.’ It was not something I was expecting. I didn’t think that I was praying for myself at the time, but I saw it as a sign. I saw it as a confirmation that this is God’s will.”

Known as the blogging bishop, Dowd has been active on social media sharing tidbits from his last days as bishop in Montreal and first in Ontario. In a blog posted to his website after his installation on Dec. 17, entitled, “The journey to my installation as diocesan bishop of ‘the Soo,’ ” he outlines his first experiences in the city, giving readers a peek into the life of a bishop which he says many are curious to understand.

“The blogging got started because I was a parish priest and people would sometimes come up to me and ask what the priests do apart from Mass on Sunday. They had no idea. I knew that so many amazing things happen. It was, it was a very exciting and interesting life so I thought, if they want to see, here’s how I can show them. So, I started to blog, you know, basically because I was bursting.”

While he had to pull back on the blogging a bit due to the privacy required in his role while working in personnel at the Montreal archdiocese, he hopes to be able to use that medium more regularly as a way to communicate and connect with the people in Sault Ste. Marie.

Another way he hopes to connect to his new community is through language. With a significant First Nations population within the diocese, Dowd, who speaks English, French, German and some Italian and Spanish, hopes to add another language to his arsenal — Ojibwe. When asked what he would like as a parting gift from friends and colleagues in Montreal, he requested a Bible in the Indigenous language.

“I find that any time we learn a new language, we learn a new world view,” said Dowd, whose German mother taught him her language as he grew up in Montreal immersed in English and French. “The ability to experience another culture and another language I think it’s an enriching thing.

“How fast am I going to wind up learning Ojibwe? I don’t know. I hope to be able to pick up some of it. What I find amazing is that our religion is one in which we believe that God comes to us in a way that is intelligible in every language and in every culture.”

The last couple of years have not been without challenges for Dowd. This past summer he mourned the tragic death of his younger brother Chris to ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Dowd also participated in the trial of Brian Boucher — a former Montreal priest who was sentenced in 2019 to eight years in prison for the sexual abuse of two underage boys. Dowd describes the experience as “one of the most challenging” of his life. After the trial he took  six months off due to burn out.

He says the ordeal has made him more resolute about the calling and the need for a work/life balance. Though gruelling, he recognizes his experience was nothing compared to those who were abused. 

“When I think of the victims of Brian Boucher, they are my heroes,” said Dowd. “I mean, you know, they have had to live and process far more than I did. I hold them in great esteem.”

As he learns the ropes at the new diocese, Dowd hopes people will be patient through the transition as he works toward his vision for the Church encapsulated in his episcopal motto, Cor et anima una. Taken from the Book of Acts, translated from Latin it means, “to be of one mind and one heart.”

“It’s a statement that reflects the spirit of the early Church and kind of my vision of leadership,” said Dowd, who plans to spend time driving around the vast northern diocese getting to know its communities. “We don’t always have to agree on everything, but we should strive for that mutual understanding that allows for mutual respect.

“I will make my efforts to communicate my point of view on things and hopefully we will have a meeting of minds and more importantly, a meeting of hearts.”

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