Appeal Co-Chairs Live Their Faith

NEW CANAAN—When she first became interested in the annual appeal of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Julie Taylor was most drawn to the diocesan Respect Life ministry. “As a mother, it was totally the support of life,” says Julie, this year’s Annual Catholic Appeal co-chair with her husband, Rowan. The couple are the parents of four daughters, now ages 20, 16, 15 and 4 years old, and are members of St. Aloysius Parish.

As their children grew older, in addition to the Respect Life ministry the Taylors found their interest growing in the inner-city schools of Bridgeport, now known as the Cathedral Academies. “We live in New Canaan, where good schools are a given,” Rowan points out. “The Cathedral Academies provide excellent educational opportunities in an area where the average family lives below the poverty line.”

In keeping with her pro-life commitment, Julie began volunteering for Malta House, a home for women in crisis pregnancy. That led to an invitation to join the Order of Malta and a deepening of faith, devotion and a realization of the many works supported by the diocese. “Now it’s hard for me to single one thing out,” Julie says.

Rowan and Julie met on the first day of freshman year at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. They quickly discovered a surprising coincidence: they were born on the same day. “I was born earlier in the day, which is why I’m so mature,” says Rowan with his trademark grin.

“I married an older man,” Julie is quick to counter.

Although they had the same class advisor and knew each other from day one, they didn’t immediately start dating. It may have been because, in many ways, they were so different. Rowan was from Portland, Oregon; Julie grew up in Fairfield County. He was an economics major; she took a double major in European history and French. Rowan, who has over 25 years of private equity experience, is the founding partner of Liberty Hall Capital Partners, a private equity firm based in New York City.

For whatever differences, they didn’t start dating for months—not until after they came back from the Christmas break their freshman year. “The third Sunday in January, January 18, was the 29th anniversary of our first date,” Rowan says, flashing another grin.

Their relaxed enjoyment in each other’s company contradicts their strikingly different backgrounds. The most important: Julie came from a devout Catholic family. “My parents were among the most devout, faith-filled people I ever knew. My parents met at a church bazaar. Two of my mother’s brothers were priests.”

Rowan had no religion at all. “Religion was not part of my life,” he says. “It wasn’t important to my parents.”

Although Julie’s religious practice had been “on and off, like most kids,” in her early college years, by the time she graduated it was “mostly on.” She doesn’t know why her faith deepened even while she was dating a “heathen;” that’s just how it happened.

They were married at St. Patrick’s, the Catholic Church near Washington and Lee in Virginia. From that time on, Julie was in church every single Sunday. Rowan respected her devotion, but was not part of it.

“I can remember the moment when the light came on,” he says. They were in Italy with Julie’s parents, traveling down from Florence to Rome, and stopped in Assisi.

It was Good Friday.

Following a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, or even earlier, the Taylors joined the crowd of the faithful watching the emotional Processione del Cristo Morto, as the image of the crucified Christ was carried through the streets, along with one of his sorrowing mother.

“The sun begins to set in this Roman town, the lights go out, and the narrow streets are lit by hundreds of torches. They carry out the statue of Christ, and another of Mary, followed by about 40 people in robes, walking barefoot, carrying crosses, with their faces covered to emphasize that in God there is no difference between the mayor of the city and someone who cleans the streets. I heard people praying the Hail Mary in half a dozen languages.”

Rowan describes himself as a “0-1 person in all phases of my life. You do a thing well or you don’t do it.” He came back from that vacation, enrolled in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) at St. Aloysius, and was baptized, confirmed and received First Holy Communion during the Easter Vigil the following year.

Over the years, particularly after they both joined the Order of Malta, their faith deepened. Julie was on the parish council and taught religious education; Rowan was on the finance committee. More than that, they moved beyond the “little cocoon of our parish.” In addition to their other activities, Julie is a delegate to Synod 2014.

As parents, they are particularly interested in the first synod theme: Empower the Young Church. “Studies show that 53 percent of people will leave their childhood faith by adulthood,” Julie says, clearly upset by the statistic.

When Bishop Caggiano met the Taylors, he recognized immediately that they would make an ideal lay chair couple for the Annual Catholic Appeal. Among their other activities, they hope to spend time learning more about parish ministries across the diocese, talking to priests about clergy formation, and visiting schools and Catholic Charities sites like the Thomas Merton Center in Bridgeport.

“It’s time, it’s treasures, it’s talent—that’s how we’ve ingrained Christ’s faith into our lives,” says Rowan. “This is what we have to do. We want to keep the faith growing and strong for ourselves, for our children, for everyone.”

By Pat Hennessy