He was the first Canadian Roman Catholic priest to start a blog.
Now, at 40, Rev. Thomas Dowd is posting a much loftier achievement: Canada’s youngest bishop and the second youngest in the world.
On Sept. 10, the capacious, ornate Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral in downtown Montreal is expected to be packed for Father Dowd’s ordination as auxiliary bishop of the city, the second-largest diocese in the country.
For Father Dowd – who was busy programming a new mobile app on his blog on a Sunday afternoon just before agreeing to be interviewed – the honour of being ordained bishop at such a young age is an encouraging sign of renewal and vitality in the church, whose pews have been emptying at an alarming rate over the past decades.
“Perhaps it’s a generational change that is occurring. It’s good to have fresh perspectives on things,” he says.
Globally, the church has also been buffeted by scandals involving pedophile priests and allegations of official cover-ups.
As a pioneer of social-media use in the church, Father Dowd has been making his mark, having launched his blog – Waiting in Joyful Hope, at fatherdowd.net – eight years ago and heading up a project in the 1990s to get the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops on the Internet, a global first.
He noted in a recent blog that the Apostolic Nuncio to Canada, Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana, mentioned his social media work after informing him two weeks ago at his offices in Ottawa that the Pope was calling him to the auxiliary bishop’s posting.
“The Nuncio knew about it, and encouraged me to use my expertise with new media to reach out to people and try to build community,” Father Dowd wrote.
The Nuncio also humorously touched upon the candidate’s relative youth.
After the Pope’s representative in Canada asked him if he accepted the offer, before letting him answer he interjected: “Of course, you are quite young, but this is a defect that time will take care of on its own.”
Half-dressed in priestly garb on a sweltering summer’s day – a black short-sleeved shirt with the trademark collar for the top half, casual slacks and sandals for the bottom half – Father Dowd holds forth on new media and other topics in a reception room at the Archbishop’s residence.
“We’re supposed to speak every language. Why not computer language?” he says about the evolving global Church.
“The Pope is on Twitter,” he notes. “The blog really is a way to build community,” says Father Dowd, who left a high-flying executive job as manager of the global integration and verification organization at telecom giant Ericsson Research Canada to join the priesthood in 1995.
He went to Ericsson in 1992 after graduating with a bachelor of commerce degree from Concordia University, where he majored in international business and minored in finance.
But the “call of God” was too strong for the long-time practicing Catholic. “I was very fortunate. I was 24, manager of a global organization. I had my career ahead of me and I decided I had to change and follow the calling of my heart.”
He characterizes the move as a kind of premature “mid-life crisis.”
In a nod to new media, his ordination will be broadcast over the Web.
Once ordained, one of his tasks will be to further the cause of interfaith understanding.
“The challenge for all faiths is: how do we accomplish pluralism?” he says.
Quebeckers have been debating so-called reasonable accommodation for years and the Church can continue contributing to the issue thanks in part to its rich experience in rapprochement on the interfaith and intra-Christian faith fronts, he said.
As to Montreal’s flock of about 250,000 English-speaking Catholics, who are currently without a bishop to look after their interests since Rev. Anthony Mancini left a few years ago to become Archbishop of Halifax, Father Dowd says Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, Archbishop of Montreal, has still not officially confirmed that he will take on that responsibility.
As to whether he sees himself one day in the archbishop’s chair, he has no ambitions for moving up even higher in the church hierarchy.
“No. I’d be very surprised if I were named cardinal,” he says.
“When I went to business school, part of what you learn is a culture that rewards ambition. I did a lot to unlearn that when I decided to become a priest.
“I am ambitious for the higher gifts, as Saint Paul put it – primarily the gift of service.”