James A. Kowalski is a Connecticut native who served for nine years as rector of one of the largest Episcopal parishes in the United States before his election as ninth dean of the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. The Very Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski assumed his duties in March 2002, saying, “Now more than ever, we need a Cathedral that is a house of prayer for all people and all nations. I am profoundly moved to join the Cathedral's ministries of interfaith understanding, prayer, justice and peace.”
During his tenure, Dean Kowalski has led the Cathedral through major programmatic repositioning as well as a lengthy restoration process following a devastating fire in December 2001. Dean Kowalski grew up as an active member of the Episcopal Church in his native Willimantic, Connecticut, a blue collar, ethnic, university city in the eastern part of the state. He sang in a boys' choir and served as an acolyte. He became an Eagle Scout in a troop sponsored by the parish.
The Dean's sense of vocation grew during his undergraduate years at Trinity College in Hartford, where he earned his BA with honors in English and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. After a one-year Rockefeller Trial Year Fellowship at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he enrolled briefly in New York University School of Law, returning to Episcopal Divinity School in 1976 and graduating in 1978 with a Master of Divinity degree. He was ordained a Deacon that year.
After serving as an intern chaplain at the University of Vermont, Kowalski's first remunerated position was as Curate of Trinity Church in Newtown, Connecticut. There he developed a Youth Service Bureau, collaborated with the State to develop an adolescent depression and suicide prevention program, successfully completed a capital campaign, and dramatically increased the parish's membership. Kowalski was junior high school session chaplain at Camp Washington for many years, also chairing its Board of Managers.
In 1982 he became Rector of Hartford's Church of the Good Shepherd, a dying inner city parish that he transformed during an eleven-year tenure. Among his accomplishments were the development of a Teen Pregnancy Program funded by more than $500,000 in state, federal, and foundation grants; successful completion of a capital campaign for the parish's historic landmarked parish house; and community service as President of the Martin Luther King Housing Corporation, which created 112 housing units. While at Good Shepherd, Kowalski earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from Hartford Seminary; served as a Fellow in the American Leadership Forum in 1991; and was Program Director of Connecticut Boys' State from 1979 through 1992.
In 1993 Kowalski accepted a call to serve as Rector of St. Luke's Parish in Darien, among the largest Episcopal parishes in the U.S. During his tenure, annual giving to the parish increased to $1.2 million from $750,000, a $2.8 million Capital Campaign was successfully completed, and the parish's endowment grew to $3 million from $600,000. Kowalski expanded the scope of St. Luke's 33-year-old social service agency and served as President of the Fairfield County Economic Development Corporation and as President of the Darien Clergy Association, serving on its Social Services Commission. He was the Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute and served as Canon Scholar at Hartford's Christ Church Cathedral. In 2002 the Dean was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree by Berkeley Divinity School at Yale.
The Dean works in partnership with the Bishop as the Cathedral fulfills its commitment as one of the Diocese's major mission ministries. He is a trustee of the Episcopal Charities of the Diocese of New York; a member of the Board of Overseers of St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York; a director of the Center for Interreligious Understanding; a member of the Advisory Board of the Episcopal Actors’ Guild of America, Inc.; board chair of Grace Cottage Hospital Foundation, Townshend, Vermont; and vice chair of Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, MA.
The Dean has been married since 1976 to Anne Brewer, M.D., who holds a BA from Brown University and combined her Episcopal Divinity School studies with a medical school education at the University of Vermont. Within one week in 1979, she graduated from medical school and seminary and was ordained a deacon. She was ordained to the priesthood in 1980. Dean Kowalski and Dr. Brewer have two children: Becky is a resident in general surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in NYC; Matt is an electrical engineer with his own company in computers and telecommunications in Baltimore; and Matt’s wife, Emily, is a medical student.