Experience Making a Difference

Experience Making a Difference

How I Followed Two Fathers to a Life of Service

by | Jun 16, 2018

by Al Rowley

Faith of our fathers, holy faith. It’s a refrain that echoes in my life, where two fathers — my dad, Allan Rowley, Sr., Esq., and my uncle, Father James Colford, S.J. — handed down to me a living faith. 

My uncle was insightful and funny and always ready to work and teach in any capacity to which the Jesuits assigned him: teacher, preacher, priest, pastor, principal, and counselor. He matriculated from the Chicago Jesuit Academy in 1945. We travelled to visit him in his many positions in and around the Midwest. Likewise, he visited us in Detroit and on the lakes where we frequently vacationed. 

My father was a doctor of jurisprudence, a graduate of the University of Detroit. He taught me the very detailed ins and outs of hunting, fishing, ice skating, boating, swimming, dock building, dock maintenance, and sketching, whether guns or boats and birds or freighters and all things Michigan. 

Dad also was a reverent Catholic who was involved in parish work and parish school building back in those heady Catholic building frenzies of the ’50s and ’60s. 

He had integrity. At one point in his career as a corporate lawyer, he had refused to falsify a report by the Federal Communications Commission on an important landing-gear company. He resigned instead. The pride of that action has impacted me ever since.

I stand upon the shoulders of those two fathers and try to emulate them in my work and life. 

Some of us — though not many in Grosse Pointe — worked our way through the school year and summers, cutting lawns, washing boats, shoveling snow, being roadies for local bands, doing odd jobs, and saving our money.  

The non-paying jobs came at the hands of the Adrian Dominicans whom we basically loved, but sometimes not. (I think the feeling was mutual.) And always there were Masses, weddings, and funerals to attend. In my house, work and volunteering were expected.

The money I made went to getting a teaching degree at Oregon State University. As I started my path toward a degree in Secondary English, Dr. Leland, a leader among the College of Education staff, had stopped me in the halls. She said that I should consider teaching and reaching younger students, who were in their formative years, not the older students who were already set on their paths. With the Adrian Dominicans sitting firmly on my shoulders, you know what I had to do.

Fifty years later, I have raised an elementary school principal and a supply chain manager at a huge hospital system. My wife of 43 years just finished painting the lower floor and conference room in our parish center at St. Ignatius in Denver. She will probably immediately start on one of the monthly quilts that are given to the children’s hospital. 

I’ve found that Ignatian Volunteers seem to come from backgrounds of care. They surround themselves with people who practice what Rotary International calls Service above Self. And so I find myself among the ranks of Ignatian Volunteers, lucky enough to share these common traits.

Al Rowley is a retired Catholic school principal and teacher. He now volunteers with IVC Denver, where he serves at Escuela de Guadalupe, a dual-language, Catholic school for grades pre-K to 8 in West Denver. It is here that he says has entered into the most thrilling days of his teaching career, instructing 4th and 5th grade students in religion.