We invite readers to send short stories about the ways in which their lives have been personally blessed by the life and work of priests and religious in our diocese.
By Karina Fabian
Father Jerry Lowney has always lived according to Catholic ideals. He has worked with the poor, fought against racism, violence and capital punishment, and championed the rights of the oppressed. Yet it was many years before he was able to take the next step in living those ideals: priesthood. Nonetheless, that step, once taken, has deeply enriched his life and efforts.
Father Lowney was born and raised in Butte and after his graduation had attended Mount St. Francis Franciscan Seminary and completed his novitiate at St. Anthony’s in Indiana. However, during his college years at Our Lady of Consolation seminary in Carey, Ohio, illness necessitated his return to Butte. From there he took on a series of “civilian” jobs: deputy clerk at the Montana State Supreme Court, national officer for the Young Democrats, insurance sales in Montana and, later, California.
In California, he completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at San Diego State University. By 1976, he’d earned a Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Kentucky and taught at the University of Richmond. In 1979, he moved to Mobile, Ala., to teach at Spring Hill College, a Jesuit college. He completed his first book.
During this time, he continued to be active in the Church, working for Catholic social justice. He protested against the Vietnam War in California and marched for equal rights in North Carolina (where he was beat up by the Klu Klux Klan.). In Mobile, he was one of the few white people of 12,000 who marched against the lynching of a black youth named Michael Donald. In addition, he was active in parish youth groups and worked to institute child labor laws in Montana.
While teaching at Spring Hill, however, he realized that the calling he’d left behind was still fighting to be heard. “I was always rationalizing,” he said. “I was doing all these good things. I was teaching and working for social justice. One Sunday, I realized I could do all that and be a priest. I quit fighting my vocation.”
He entered the seminary, went to Catholic University and was ordained in 1988. He started teaching part time at Carroll College while being associate pastor at the Cathedral in Helena. He was also the spiritual director at Legendary Lodge. In 1992, he began teaching full time at Carroll – sociology with specialties in deviance, crime and medical sociology.
He’s continued his studies of the teen drug subculture that he began in 1970. Next year, he plans to take a sabbatical to update his second book and visit other Catholic campuses to determine how they have instituted peace and justice centers that conform to Catholic social justice teachings.
He continues to work for social justice. In addition to protesting the first Gulf War, he has worked against the death penalty, ministering to three death-row inmates. He founded the St. Joseph’s Foundation for Helena-area teens, which raised money for extra-curricular activities. He also endeavors to include the Catholic social justice teachings in his classes. As class projects, they have raised funds for uninsured children, the homeless, pregnant mothers and other causes. He served as chaplain of the Montana State Senate during 2005 and 2007 sessions.
Father Lowney said, “Although I am very involved in social justice, I believe strongly that those efforts have to be based on spirituality and the sacraments. When I celebrate Mass or other sacraments at Carroll and in various parishes on weekends, I recognize the heart of our Church begins with the Body of Christ and, as Pope Benedict has stressed, we become the Body of Christ as a community and are obliged to go forth and be the Body of Christ to others. This includes ministry in the classroom, aiding students as well as serving those in need throughout our world.”
Published in The Montana Catholic, Vol. 23, No. 10, October 19, 2007.