Dean installed at Cathedral of St. John

April 15, 2002

In the shadows of the damage from a devastating December fire, the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine proved once again that life goes on in the Episcopal Church and in New York City. On April 13, the Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski was installed as the ninth dean of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Manhattan.

A Connecticut native, Kowalski was rector of St. Luke’s, Darien, one of the largest Episcopal parishes in the country, prior to his call as dean of the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Surrounded by his family, including his wife, the Rev. Anne Brewer, Kowalski was installed by Bishop Mark S. Sisk of New York, in a service that combined tradition, remembrances, and a look to the future.

Despite the vestiges of the fire that remain – a temporary organ and plywood window-coverings – colorful kites and banners unfurled over the heads of more than 1500 assembled as bishops, priests, and trustees processed to the joyful strains of a 75-member choir. Musical selections included Hear My Song from the show Songs For The New World by Tony Award-winner Jason Robert Brown.

Cuomo presents sermon

In his sermon, Mario Cuomo, former governor of New York, noted how well the new dean and the cathedral were matched. “His dazzlingly diverse background suggests he will fit comfortably in our exquisite cultural mosaic. Dean Kowalski is the son of first generation Americans of Russian and Polish ancestry. His mother was Jewish and his father was Catholic: they settled their religious differences after they were married by both becoming Episcopalian, an extraordinary lesson in collaboration. In every way Dean Kowalski appears to be a fortuitously appropriate choice to continue the work in progress of the world’s largest Cathedral and one of our nation’s most cherished.”

Cuomo conferred a detailed charge on Kowalski: “Dean, here is my advice: just keep doing what you have been doing for all your years as a priest and what the Cathedral has been doing so wonderfully well for more than a century. The truth is that after 9/11 we need your kind of ministering more than we have in a long time. Dean, now more than ever, we need you and the Cathedral, harnessing the energies of love through thousands of beautiful words and even more beautiful acts of kindness and generosity. I believe God has blessed us with your presence. Deo Gratias. Shalom. Salaam Alaikum. Peace.”

Presentations touching and humorous

During the installation service, there were many symbolic gifts presented to Kowalski, including water, a Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, a stole, a flowering branch, oil, and a bell from the Cathedral School. Chuckles rippled through the cathedral as Kowalski was presented with a calendar in the form of a Palm Pilot, and the keys to the cathedral, attached to a cumbersome heavy chain and wooden plank.

He, in turn, presented Connecticut bishop Andrew Smith with a cross that survived the December conflagration and, as Kowalski described, “could be the most photographed cross from the cathedral fire.”

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine is the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of New York.