James A. Kowalski

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James A. Kowalski
Dean of Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, New York
ChurchEpiscopal Church in the United States of America
AppointedNovember 2001
InstalledApril 13, 2002
PredecessorHarry Houghton Pritchett, Jr.
Personal details
Born(1951-09-11)September 11, 1951
Willimantic, Connecticut

James A. Kowalski[1] was the 9th dean of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, New York of the Episcopal Church in New York City,[2] the largest city in the United States.[3][4] He had been Dean from April 13, 2002,[5] until he stepped down effective June 2017.[6][7]

Kowalski's father was Roman Catholic and his mother was Jewish, but they joined the Episcopal Church when they started a family.[1][5] His father was "a blue collar worker, [who] served on the vestry...."[1] Kowalski was born on September 11, 1951 in Willimantic, Connecticut,[1] also described as a "blue collar town".[3]

Early life and work[edit]

As a boy, Kowalski sang in a choir, served as an acolyte, and was an Eagle Scout in a boy scout troop.[3]

Kowalski earned a bachelor's degree in English,[8] at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, a notable honors society.[3] He attended Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts and, after a hiatus at New York University School of Law, he returned to theology studies in 1976 and graduated in 1978 with a master's degree in divinity.[3] In the meantime, in 1976, he married Anne Brewer, a medical doctor who has also been an ordained Episcopal priest since 1980.[3][5] They have two grown children.[3]

In 1978, Kowalski was ordained as a deacon.[4] He served for a time as a chaplain at the University of Vermont and was curate at Trinity Church in Newtown, Connecticut.[4] After ordination to the priesthood, he served as priest at the Church of the Good Shepherd and Parish House in Hartford, Connecticut from 1982 to 1993.[1][4] He earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from Hartford Seminary.[4]

Kowalski served as rector of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Darien, Connecticut from 1993 to 2001,[1] for nine years at one of the largest Episcopal churches in the United States,[5] with 4,000 members.[4] He raised a capital campaign of $2.8 million and increased giving by $450,000 annually to St. Luke's parish.[4] Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.[4]


In November 2001, shortly after the September 11 attacks, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine called Kowalski to be their new dean.[3][4] His diverse experience, promise to stay at least 10 years, and "a penchant for fund-raising" were reasons mentioned at the time for his election as ninth dean.[3] One search committee member said he "came across as an intelligent, accessible and articulate clergyman...."[3] He assumed his duties as dean in March 2002.[4] However, due to a "devastating" fire at the cathedral in December 2001, his installation was delayed until April 13, 2002.[5] The sermon at his installation ceremony was given by Mario Cuomo, former Governor of New York.[5]

Kowalski "works in partnership with the Bishop" and runs the largest Gothic cathedral in the world.[4] He is "'the voice and face' of the Cathedral in terms of public and community relations."[9] He takes pride in his preaching, stating once, "I’m an old English major, and I can overlay meanings on anything, but in this case it was just the Sunday sermon...."[8]

As a leading priest, he speaks at other Anglican churches and cathedrals, including Manchester, England,[10] and Covington, Kentucky.[11] He also speaks and writes on peace in the world.[12]

Each year on the first Sunday of October, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine celebrates the feast day of St. Francis, which is October 4,[13] and, one year, Kowalski welcomed peacocks to the cathedral close in New York.[14]

On November 30, 2008, Kowalski officially re-opened the cathedral after workers made repairs to the burned structure.[15][16][17][18] Kowalski compared continuing the church's programs while it was being re-built was "like living through a kitchen renovation, but ...'We're only doing it on a grander scale.'"[19] The re-dedication ceremony was co-led by Kowalski, with the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Right Rev. Mark S. Sisk, the Episcopal bishop of New York.[15] The ceremony was attended by many prominent politicians, including a former Mayor of New York, David N. Dinkins, Senator Charles E. Schumer and then-senator Hillary Clinton.[15][18][20] After the ceremony, Kowalski said, "The massiveness of this cathedral is part of its ability to be a compelling, awe-inspiring place...."[17]

Kowalski serves as chair of the board of trustees of The Cathedral School of St. John the Divine, New York.[21]

In a 2015 open letter, Kowalski discussed the recent controversies about police shootings in the United States:

Democratic government will always be messy and never easy. As we aspire to equal justice under the law, our systems of justice will never be perfect. ... [T]he danger to each of us is made greater if we do not work hard for equal justice.

— James A. Kowalski [22]

In August 2016, Kowalski announced he would retire as of June 2017 after 16 years' service.[6][7] Clifton Daniel III replaced him as interim dean.[23]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Louie Crew, ed., 101 reasons to be Episcopalian, p. 85, ISBN 978-0-8192-1925-1, see Google books. Accessed September 17, 2009.
  2. ^ Kowalski is described as a "prominent resident of New York City" see NY Beyond Sight website with audio link. Accessed September 17, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Daniel J. Wakin, "St. John the Divine Chooses a Dean from Connecticut," The New York Times, November 17, 2001.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Official biography on the Cathedral of St. John the Divine website. Accessed September 17, 2009.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Neva Rae Fox, "Episcopalians: Dean installed at Cathedral of St. John," Episcopal News service (ENS), April 16, 2002, found at Worldwide Faith News archives. Accessed September 17, 2009.
  6. ^ a b "N.Y. Cathedral Dean to Step Down". Living Church. August 27, 2016. Retrieved August 17, 2017.
  7. ^ a b Kowalski, James (August 26, 2016). "A Message from the Dean". St John the Divine Newsletter. Retrieved August 17, 2017.
  8. ^ a b Vitello, Paul (March 3, 2008). "A Bishop Unveiled God's Secrets While Keeping His Own". New York Times. Retrieved April 3, 2014.
  9. ^ Philosophy and religion website of Richard T. Nolan page on Kowalski. Accessed September 17, 2009.
  10. ^ Manchester, England Cathedral website page on Dean Kowalski. Accessed September 17, 2009.
  11. ^ James A. Kowalski, "The Eighth Annual Stolberg Lecture: Under That Roof? Sizing the Mission of a Great Cathedral", delivered at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, Covington, Kentucky, February 10, 2003. Found at Covington Cathedral website. Accessed September 17, 2009.
  12. ^ James A. Kolwaski, "A Christian Vision of Peace in Global Conflict", in Mehdi Faridzadeh, ed., Philosophies of peace and just war in Greek philosophy and religions of Abraham: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, pp. 7 et seq., (Alhoda UK, 2004) ISBN 1-59267-032-6, ISBN 978-1-59267-032-1 found at Google books result. Accessed September 17, 2009.
  13. ^ Jack Wintz, O.F.M., "St. Francis at St. John the Divine", American Catholic, found at American Catholic website. Accessed September 17, 2009.
  14. ^ Herb Katz, "Four Peacocks Come Home to Roost", The Episcopal New Yorker, found at Diocese of New York website. Accessed September 17, 2009.
  15. ^ a b c Sewell Chan, "Repaired After Fire, Cathedral Reopens," New York Times City Room, November 30, 2008, found at New York Times City Room website. Accessed September 17, 2009.
  16. ^ Christina Boyle, "St. John the Divine reopens Sunday in all its glory, seven years after fire," Daily News, November 29th 2008, found at Daily News website. Accessed September 17, 2009.
  17. ^ a b Reuven Fenton, "St. John's Divine Again Recovered After '01 Fire", New York Post, December 26, 2008, found at New York Post website. Accessed September 17, 2009.
  18. ^ a b NY1, "Restored Cathedral of Saint John the Divine Reopens", November 30, 2008, found at Channel NY 1 website. Accessed September 17, 2009.
  19. ^ Ari Goldman, "On Religion: Cathedral's cooking", Daily News, July 29, 2007, found at Daily News website. Accessed September 17, 2009.
  20. ^ Anglican Diocese of Taonga, New Zealand website, image of Hillary Rodham Clinton and James A. Kowalski. Accessed September 17, 2009.
  21. ^ "Members of The Cathedral School Board of Trustees: 2012–2013". Cathedral of St. John the Divine website. n.d. Retrieved June 18, 2013.
  22. ^ James A. Kowalski, "Dean's meditations: Divides", The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine Newsletter, Spring 2015, vol. 14, no. 68, p. 3.
  23. ^ "Clifton Daniel appointed interim dean of St John the Divine cathedral". Episcopal News Nerwork. March 13, 2017. Retrieved August 17, 2017.

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