By Alan Hustak for VMO
Thursday, March 20th, 2022
They were boyhood friends who made their first communion at St. Albertus in Ottawa in 1978. Now they are the country’s youngest Roman Catholic Bishops. Montreal’s Auxiliary bishop, Thomas Dowd, was among the 42 bishops and two cardinals who attended the installation of his friend, Christian Riesbeck, as Auxiliary Bishop of Ottawa on March 19.
Both men were born in Montreal, but Riesbeck grew up in Ottawa. He came from a devout family with a Canadian mother and German immigrant father. Dowd’s mother was of German origin.
“We didn’t really follow each other through the years, but we knew each other through the church,” says Dowd.
As a boy, Riesbeck used to pretend he was a priest and would celebrate Mass in the backyard, dispensing potato chips as communion wafers and apple juice as sacramental wine. He was studying political science at the University of Ottawa with the intention of going into international law when he decided joined the Companions of the Cross, which was founded by his mentor, Rev. Bob Bedard in 1985.
Riesbeck was the first to be ordained to the priesthood in 1996; Dowd, who has his commerce degree and worked at an international communications company, didn’t enter the seminary until he was 25 but was ordained in 2001. But Dowd was the first to be named a bishop, in 2011.
“That’s unsual. He was five years on me as a priest, but I was two and a half years up on him as bishop,” says Dowd.
Bishop Riesbeck served parishes in Kingston, Hawkesbury, and Brockville then spent nine years as pastor of a Hispanic parish in Texas. He came back to Canada four years ago. Following his installation, he acknowledged Bishop Dowd seated behind him in the chancel,
“I know what you are thinking,” he told the standing room only crowd, “That I am too young to be a bishop, but there is even a younger bishop here. We made our first communion together; two boys, two bishops, that’s a 100 per cent success rate.”
Bishop Riesbeck is 44, Bishop Dowd at 43 is six months his junior. Both are conversant in five languages, and because of their similar ethnic backgrounds share an ease with working with people of all stripes and an openness to various cultures.
Christians knows how to give. Their lives are filled with generous acts – often hidden – towards their neighbour.
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