Francis Medal Presented to New York Native

Jocelyn Thomas Around the Province

Matthew Dowd Francis Medal

From left to right: Matthew, Cynthia, Matthew and Abigail Dowd, and Brian Jordan. (Photo courtesy of Aidan McCooey)

QUEENS, N.Y. — On Thanksgiving Day, Brian Jordan, OFM, recognized someone to whom he is grateful by presenting the HNP Francis Medal to attorney Matthew Dowd, a New York City native who lives and works in Washington, D.C.

Brian, a chaplain at St Francis College in Brooklyn, gave the medal to this “faithful, Roman Catholic lawyer, for his pro-bono assistance and wise counsel to not be intimidated by lawsuits that intend to infringe on the freedom of religion.” The medal was presented to Dowd in his parents’ home in Bayside, where he grew up.

Lawsuit Regarding World Trade Center Cross
Dowd, of Wiley Rein LLP, represented Brian when the nonprofit group American Atheists sued him in 2011 for his role in the blessing of the famous Ground Zero cross. Other defendants in the case, American Atheists Inc. et al v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey et al, were the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the states of New York and New Jersey and their governors, New York City, the mayor of New York City, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, World Trade Center Properties LLC and Holy Name Church. In the case, the atheists argued that “the prominent display of the cross constituted an endorsement of Christianity, diminishing the contributions of non-Christian rescuers,” according to The New York Times.

“Besides representing me in federal court from October 2011 until July 2014, Mr. Dowd also ensured that I would not undergo a six-hour deposition by the atheists’ lawyers,” said Brian, who has celebrated many Masses at Ground Zero since 9/11. “He also helped me write an amicus brief directed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York to support the inclusion of the Ground Zero cross in the 9/11 Memorial Museum.”

They were successful in two federal court decisions. The first was decided by Judge Deborah Batts of the Federal District Court in Manhattan, who ruled at 3 p.m. on Good Friday, March 29, 2013, against the atheists and in favor of including the cross in the 9/11 Memorial. By then, Brian and Holy Name Church, his former residence, had been dropped from the lawsuit.

The second decision was issued earlier this year on July 29 by a three-judge panel from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals: Denny Chin, and Reena Raggi and Gerald Lynch, both practicing Catholics, according to Brian.

A Generous Decision
Dowd, 43, attended Regis High School and The College of William and Mary, and holds a degree from George Washington Law School. He and his wife “have two wonderful, young children,” according to Brian. “They worship in the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament in Washington. Matthew is a premier lawyer in Wiley Rein LLP, one of the largest law firms in the nation’s capital. The firm’s major partners were happy to point out that their firm began the very year and the very month of my priestly ordination, May 14, 1983,” he added.

“Why did Matthew offer pro-bono legal assistance from such a distance as Washington? He is from Queens, N.Y., and still has family and friends here,” Brian explained. “He and his wife both lost loving friends on Sept. 11, and it is a pain that still endures in their hearts and minds. They, like countless others, found solace in the Ground Zero cross. Matthew was furious and saddened by the lawsuit. That was his motive to reach out to me personally and offer his services.

“Matthew guided me through the bureaucratic waters of federal court litigation,” added Brian. “He also helped me to regain my confidence as friar priest. This three-year experience has been a meaningful spiritual encounter. I can publicly attest that I am probably the only Roman Catholic priest in the country who is proud to be sued for something that he believes in. Matthew helped me to arrive at that conclusion.”

Dowd, who received the medal in front of his family, was grateful for the recognition. “Being awarded the medal is a great honor, and my family appreciated Fr. Brian’s joining us for Thanksgiving,” said Dowd. “I also greatly appreciate Fr. Brian’s willingness to nominate a product of Jesuit education!”

The Francis Medal was created in 1998 by then Provincial Minister John Felice, OFM. Recipients are people who have displayed uncommon contributions to the advancement of the ideals and values of St. Francis.

Earlier this year, the HNP Francis Medal was given to partners-in-ministry in Anderson, S.C.Raleigh, N.C., and Newark, N.J.

Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.