Fr. Ray Dowling dies at age 91

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | April 26, 2022

Neenah native served in prison ministry in Georgia and Texas

Fr. Ray Dowling

ALLOUEZ — Fr. Ray Dowling, who served in parish ministry, education and prison chaplaincy during his 60-plus years as a priest, died April 20 at age 91.

Fr. Dowling was born on Sept. 11, 1930, in Neenah to William and Gladys (Moore) Dowling. He attended St. Mary High School, Menasha, and graduated from Neenah High School. He then made his way to Dallas, Texas, to attend Southern Methodist University before moving on to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he graduated in 1952. 

Fr. Dowling attended St. Francis Seminary near Milwaukee, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1958. He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Stanislaus V. Bona on May 27, 1961, at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, Green Bay.

Fr. Dowling’s first appointment was as assistant pastor of St. Mary Parish, Leopolis. He then served as assistant pastor of Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, Green Bay, from 1961 to 1962 and Holy Rosary Parish, Kewaunee, from 1962 to 1964. Fr. Dowling served seven years as the chaplain of and as an instructor at Silver Lake College, Manitowoc. In 1968, he earned a master’s degree in theology from Marquette University in Milwaukee. 

In an interview last year for his 60-year anniversary as a priest, Fr. Dowling said that he was saddened when he found out that Holy Family College (the former Silver Lake College) had closed in 2020. He said he enjoyed his time in the classroom.

In 1971, Fr. Dowling was appointed pastor of St. Mary Parish, Brillion, where he served until 1979. He was appointed temporary administrator of St. Mary Parish, Reedsville, in 1977 while continuing as pastor of St. Mary Parish, Brillion. 

In 1979, Fr. Dowling was granted a leave of absence from ministry in the diocese to enroll in the paramedical studies program at Sacred Heart Nursing School in Milwaukee. He intended to serve in a Third World nation, but the opportunity never developed. Instead, he served in Mexico providing pastoral care to parishes in Los Reyes, La Paz, from 1980 to 1986. 

“When I came back to the states (1986), the Bureau of Prisons had heard of me,” said Fr. Dowling in his interview with The Compass last year. “I became chaplain at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta. It’s still there. I jokingly refer to it as ‘Al Capone’s alma mater.’”

In 1987, a riot broke out at the facility. Fr. Dowling was held hostage for 11 days. He credited the “grace of Jesus Christ” for working through him and helping him maintain dialogue with the inmates.

In 1993, he accepted a chaplaincy position at FCI Seagoville, a low-security federal correctional institute for men in Seagoville, Texas. He retired to senior priest status in 2000, but continued pastoral work in the Diocese of Austin, Texas.

Fr. Dowling cherished opportunities to return to Wisconsin over the years. He recalled a return visit to meet with friends in Brillion.

“I still remember many of the families,” he said in 2021. “I still hear from friends from the parishes. Email has minimized the distance. It has helped us keep our friendships.”

The funeral visitation will be held from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Wednesday, May 4, at Holy Family Church, 1100 W. Ryan St., Brillion. The funeral Mass will begin at 11 a.m. with Bishop David Ricken as celebrant. Burial will follow at St. Margaret’s Cemetery on North Street in Neenah.

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