Fr. James Dowd
Fr. James Dowd
EUGENE — Learning Spanish. Launching the Eugene Oktoberfest. Overseeing construction of parish halls. Father James Dowd did whatever was needed for the good of the people of God.

A parish priest in western Oregon since 1956, Father Dowd died of pneumonia Feb. 3 at a residential care facility in Eugene. He was 90.

Father Dowd’s remains will be returned to Ireland to be interred in the family plot. The family chose not to have services in the United States at this time because of the pandemic.

Born in County Cavan, Ireland, in 1930, he was the son of James Dowd and Katie Farrelly. He studied at All Hallows College in Dublin and was ordained there in 1956 for the Archdiocese of Portland.

He served as parochial vicar at St. James in McMinnville 1956-57; at St. Alice in Springfield 1957-63; at St. Francis in Southeast Portland 1963-67; and at Assumption in North Portland 1967-68. He was pastor of St. Patrick in Canby 1968-83; at St. Mark in Eugene 1983-88; and at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Cottage Grove 1988-03. He retired in 2003 but then answered the call to serve as administrator at St. Michael in Oakridge from 2005 to 2009. In 2009 he retired from active ministry.

Gifted with the Irish knack, Father Dowd was a popular speaker. In 1957, he served as chaplain of the Catholic Youth Organization at St. Alice and gave inspiring speeches. The Sacred Heart School of Nursing invited him to hold forth at a graduation ceremony in 1958 and the following year he keynoted the annual St. Vincent de Paul convention in Eugene.

St. Mary Parish in Eugene invited him to teach in what was called a “school of charity” in 1961.

In 1963, as Father Dowd was heading for a new assignment in Portland, the Knights of Columbus, whom he had supported energetically as a fourth-degree Knight himself, issued a statement saying, “His genial attitude and Irish wit will be greatly missed by the membership.”

In the 1960s, he earned more invitations as a speaker, including from the Knights of Columbus and the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women.

Father Dowd was not afraid to get into nuts and bolts. In 1972, he led a committee for a benefit turkey dinner to be served at the parish in Canby. By 1976, he was guiding construction of a 3,400-square-foot addition to St. Patrick Church, doubling its capacity. He also asked for design elements to make the altar a clear focal point. He supported an annual parish auction in Canby. One photo from 1977 shows him playing an old organ that was to be sold off.

Father Dowd, though he kept to himself at times, could be outspoken. In 1978, he urged other pastors to be more inclusive of those in irregular marriages. “Let’s quit judging people,” he told the Sentinel. In 1982, he voted against term limits for pastors. “I think it stinks,” he told the paper. “The role of a pastor isn’t like that of a businessman. A pastor has to have some sense of stability — he has to know he’ll be around for a while.” He also questioned the wisdom of merging parish schools into area schools, fearing division.

The people appreciated his efforts as a pastor. In 1983, Minnie Coon of Canby wrote to the Sentinel to laud his outreach to inactive Catholics and non-Catholics. “He even has put out cards for us to sign names of our fallen away Catholic friends, so someone may call on them,” Coon wrote.

In 1985, he helped begin the Oktoberfest at St. Mark Parish in Eugene, hoping to perk up an area suffering from the diminished timber industry. It became a major civic event. In 1986, Eugene Catholic Bill Kunkel called the priest a “no-monkey-business promoter” of the festival.

Father Dowd frequently presided at Masses in Cottage Grove for the charismatic community. He also led workshops on spirituality and marriage and was a pioneer in small church communities, advertising on local radio and print to invite new members.

In the mid-90s, he saw that many newcomers to the Cottage Grove and Creswell area were Hispanic Catholics. So he learned Spanish, afraid the Catholic Church would lose people without worship in the language.

Keen on space for building community, he oversaw new parish halls for both Cottage Grove and Creswell.

In 2001, parishioners threw a party for the 45th anniversary of his ordination. “He has been devoted to God, country and most of all to his people,” said a letter from parishioners.

He was an impeccable dresser and golf was his recreation. He also liked to gather with other Irish-born priests of western Oregon. This loquacious crew even welcomed Irish-American clergy like Father Pat McNamee.

“He was a very friendly priest,” Father McNamee said. “He always said hello, was always inquiring how I was.”