By Eric Connolly

Father Lowney addresses the audience of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day presentation at Carroll College. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. John F. Kennedy. Robert F. Kennedy. Three of the biggest names in the American civil rights movement, all of them remarkable in how they lived, all killed violently.

Father Jerry Lowney, who is a diocesan priest and Carroll College sociology professor emeritus, found his life intertwined with all three.

On Jan. 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Father Lowney recounted how his life intersected with the lives of the Kennedys and King. At Carroll’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, Father Lowney gave a lecture titled “Social Justice: For Life, For a Lifetime.”

He said that during his lifetime he encountered violent racism and discrimination inflicted by the Ku Klux Klan while he lived in the South. Father Lowney also marched for civil rights in North Carolina and Alabama, campaigned for both John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy and was with Robert F. Kennedy when he was shot in 1968, in Los Angeles.

The King observance at Carroll also featured remarks by Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger and Sen. Carol Williams, the Missoula Democrat who is the state Senate’s minority leader.

Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger and Father Jerry Lowney listen to Sen. Carol Williams’ remarks during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day presentation at Carroll College. The day began with midday Mass celebrated by Father Lowney, followed by Carroll College students and faculty volunteering at God’s Love homeless shelter and at the community food bank, Helena Food Share.

In an interview with The Montana Catholic, Father Lowney spoke about the importance of remembering King’s work.

“It’s important to remember what Martin Luther King did, and how it changed our whole country, and continues to do that,” he said.

“When I speak on campus, sometimes students don’t know how blacks were treated, they only know degrees of it.”

“We always have to be alert, because there is still prejudice. There’s still prejudice against black people, and there’s a great deal of prejudice toward people who are Hispanic in our country, especially with what we see along the (United States- Mexico) border.”

Father Lowney, who has long pressed for abolition of the death penalty in Montana, also expressed hope.

“Today was just fantastic,” he said. “We had 50 some students at God’s Love and Food Share. Students, I think universally, are more active that way than ever, looking to help other people. They’re the best generation I’ve ever seen.”

As the day of remembrance and service came to a close, Father Lowney succinctly responded to a question from among the people who had gathered.

“We have to accept everybody,” he said. “We are all God’s people.”

Published in The Montana Catholic Online, Volume 27, No. 1, January 21, 2011.