By Kirsten Bublitz, The Catholic Sun

FLAGSTAFF — Father Matthew Lowry is often spotted on the Northern Arizona University campus on his longboard, riding a tandem bike with assistant chaplain Father Anthony Dang or catching lunch with students in the hotspot.

Just as Father Lowry has made himself present to the students of NAU since 2009 when he first became pastor at Holy Trinity Newman Center, he is now embarking on a new mission to make himself present to the pastors and parishioners of the northern part of the diocese. Father Lowry will continue to be the chaplain of Holy Trinity Newman Center and was recently appointed by Bishop John Dolan to become Episcopal Vicar of the North. 

“This is a call to missionary discipleship, which is the same thing I’ve been called to do [at the Newman Center],” Father Lowry said. “It’s a beautiful gesture of the bishop that he’s listening to needs of the diocese and responding.” 

Effective May 1, per a letter from Bishop Dolan, Father Lowry’s role will deepen the pastoral presence in all parishes of the diocese.

“The Diocese of Phoenix is one of the largest and fast-growing diocese in the nation,” Bishop Dolan said. “Father Lowry’s main competence is to develop and maintain strong ties with each parish in the region on all levels.”  

Father Lowry believes that his time at the Newman Center has prepared him to make strong ties with each parish in the region. Father Lowry has identified the key days of the week to be present at the Newman Center and it’s his hope that he can be present to the priests and parishioners of the northern region on the other days. 

“Jesus evangelized through his presence. You have to spend time with people to help them grow in discipleship and I want to continue to be able to do that on campus but now I will also be spending time with priests and helping get to know them and walk with them.” 

Father Dan Vollmer is one priest in the northern part of the diocese who notices the distance from one part of the diocese to the other. From his assignment at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Bullhead City to the Diocesan Pastoral Center, it’s a four hour drive.  

“It doesn’t matter if you’re in Prescott Valley or Flagstaff or Bullhead City, if you have a question for the pastoral center, they’re a phone call away. Most time I don’t feel the distance, but when I’m driving I feel the distance.” 

Father Volmer is looking forward to having Father Lowry, a direct representative of the bishop, close by.  

“Having known [Father Lowry] personally for a number of years is helpful, and it’s a much easier drive to Flagstaff than Phoenix. The appointment of an episcopal vicar is a way for the bishop to reach out to the more distant parts of the diocese.” 

In addition to developing strong connections with priests in the region, Father Lowry will provide access for deacon candidates, promote vocations, and launch a Mental Health Ministry in each deanery. Father Lowry explained that priests are often an important contact point for those who are struggling. Building up mental health ministries in the northern parishes will help educate priests and their staff to know the signs to look for and to know where to direct individuals for additional mental health support. 

Father Lowry is in the midst of a building campaign for a new Newman Center for even more students to come to know Christ. He hopes this new role will aid in the building efforts.  

“For a new Newman Center to happen, it’s going to take the whole diocese. I will continue to advocate for the students here, and my hope is that even more people will become connected here and be blessed by what’s happening. [This new role] will give me an opportunity to connect with people I normally wouldn’t run into.” 

Relationship building and fostering connections is what’s on Father Lowry’s heart as he embarks on this new mission, and he’s excited to strengthen ties between priests, forming fraternity and community. 

“As a priest I have felt alone at times, and now I’m in a position where I can make it so other priests in my area don’t have to feel alone. They’ll know they have an advocate and a listening ear. I’m excited to walk with these other pastors in discipleship and learn from them which can only make me a better priest.”