“My wealth is people”: Priest talks about his life, role in Albert Lea and staying active after upcoming retirement

Published 8:00 am Sunday, February 25, 2024

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By Ayanna Eckblad

The Rev. Henry Doyle is a man who wears many hats. He is the head priest at Christ Episcopal Church in Albert Lea, works in alumni relations and outreach at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault, acts in the theater and is a volunteer and world traveler.

Originally from Colorado Springs, Doyle grew up in the Roman Catholic Church with his family. He said he enjoyed the tradition of the church and considered becoming a priest in middle school. However, he decided against it because he did not think he could live up to the standard of perfection that he thought priests were held to.

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Doyle graduated high school and attended college a few miles away from his family’s home in Colorado. He studied abroad his junior year at the University of Regensburg in southern Germany before returning to Colorado for his senior year and joining the Peace Corps shortly after.

During his two-year service in the Peace Corps, Doyle lived in a village in Ethiopia as an English teacher to seventh and eighth graders. During summer break, Doyle traveled to a relief camp in a nearby village that was experiencing a severe drought.

After the Peace Corps, Doyle spent the next six months traveling. He went to Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Cameroon, Togo and Ghana. A highlight of his travels in Africa was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. He went to Europe, spending six months in the British Isles before going to Paris and eventually returning to Germany to visit some close friends.

Coming back to the United States, Doyle worked as a bank teller. Although he didn’t mind the work and enjoyed his co-workers and customers, he said he felt he should be doing something else — something more fulfilling.

Doyle decided to go back to school and earned a master’s degree in college student personal administration. He got a job as director of residence life at Jesuit school Regis University in Denver. While he enjoyed working with students, he said he still felt he could be doing something more.

Doyle did not attend church regularly during college, describing himself as a “lax Catholic.” After graduating, he began exploring other faith traditions. He found that he liked the openness of the Episcopal Church and its sense of tradition that he was used to growing up. It was then that he reconsidered his childhood aspiration of becoming a priest.

Despite not sharing his possible new calling, Doyle soon received a sign that it was something he should pursue. He got a phone call from two college friends who told him that they thought he should become a priest.

Doyle spoke to the priest at the church he was now regularly attending and also spoke to a bishop. He entered a process of discernment to decide if joining the priesthood was something God wanted him to do. The process took over two years.

Doyle attended Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Wisconsin. He wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted to do after finishing school. He considered using his background in education to serve a student population rather than a traditional parish. Shortly before commencement, a classmate told Doyle about a job opportunity at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, an Episcopal-affiliated boarding school in Faribault. He contacted the school and sent them his resume. He got the job soon afterward and has been at the school for almost 35 years, working as a chaplain, dorm parent, teacher and finally in 2011, in alumni relations and outreach.

How did Father Doyle end up as a priest in Albert Lea? He began filling in as a priest at Christ Episcopal Church when the former priest moved to a different church. Doyle came to Albert Lea twice a month to conduct a Holy Eucharist service. After working in this role for a while, he was hired as the priest in charge on a part-time basis, now doing services three Sundays a month and coming to work at the church on Wednesdays. Because it was a relatively small congregation, Doyle was able to juggle both his job as head priest and his job at Shattuck-St. Mary’s.

Although professionally ordained in the Episcopal Church, Doyle does not find it challenging to work with other denominations.

During various holidays, Doyle partners with other area churches to hold special services. During Lent, Christ Episcopal Church partners with Ascension Lutheran Church and Salem Lutheran Church for a Lent series. Doyle takes turns with Mark Boorsma, pastor of both Lutheran churches, in leading worship.

On Thanksgiving Eve, the Episcopal Church again partners with other churches — Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian — for a special service.

“For me it’s not a challenge as long as there’s an openness on the part of all of us,” Doyle said. “To work together, to be cooperative, is very important.”

He especially appreciates that the churches he works with have an open communion, meaning that those in attendance do not need to be a member of that specific church in order to receive the sacraments.

Not only does Doyle enjoy working with other Christian denominations, he enjoys working with people of other religions as well. He has done this mainly through Shattuck-St. Mary’s, working with students who are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and atheist.

Doyle strongly believes in respecting the dignity of every human being.

“I find it refreshing to be a part of interfaith,” he said. “God is a God of love. … We need to speak more and express more the love of God and treat people with respect, with kindness…

“We’ve got to try and get along in this world.”

At one point, Doyle worked with a Jewish rabbi to officiate a wedding in California.

Doyle has done many weddings, both for former students and some not-so-familiar faces. Conducting these weddings has led Doyle to travel all over the U.S., including Hawaii and Alaska, as well as Costa Rica and Bermuda.

Doyle has also become a bit of a local celebrity through his card ministry. The undertaking began when he began sending birthday cards to his students. He realized the impact it had when he learned that one of his former students looked forward to receiving his card in the mail every year. Doyle began sending cards to other people for other occasions. Nowadays, Doyle sends out thousands of cards a year. He sends out cards for birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and anniversaries, but also for holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Passover and Rosh Hashanah.

Between his job at the school, serving his parish and sending cards, it is hard to believe that Doyle has time for anything else. However, he lives a very active life outside of his work as well. One of his passions is the performing arts, and he has acted in many community theater productions. One memorable role he played was Crooks in “Of Mice and Men.”

Doyle volunteers for Meals on Wheels and tries to support other deserving nonprofits when he can. He enjoys listening to the radio, primarily public radio, Christian rock and songs from his favorite Broadway plays.

Although priests in the Episcopal Church are allowed to marry, Doyle said that he has never felt called to be married.

“I live alone, but I’m not lonely. I’m around lots of people all the time,” he explained. Right now he lives in Faribault and has a 50-mile commute to Albert Lea.

Doyle plans to retire from his job at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School this June after 35 years of service. In his retirement, he hopes to do more volunteer work and more traveling. He would love to visit Australia and New Zealand.

Fortunately for his parish, Doyle plans to continue serving as priest of Christ Episcopal Church as long as he can. He still believes in the importance of staying active but also wants to remember that it’s OK to say no sometimes. He is looking forward to getting more than his usual three hours of sleep at night.

Doyle considers himself extremely fortunate to have a job he enjoys that allows him to be surrounded by the people who are important to him.

“My wealth is people,” he said. He added that he feels “wanted, needed and supported” at both Christ Episcopal Church and Shattuck-St. Mary’s.

“I have been very fortunate in my life,” Doyle said.