Meet the Tech Professional-Turned-Dominican Priest Evangelizing Big Tech
Dominican Father Corwin Low tells the Register how he went from a successful businessman to becoming a priest in a mendicant religious order.
Father Corwin Low, a successful businessman in the early days of the internet who became a Dominican priest, is now offering a message of hope and fulfillment to the tech industry.
Father Low’s journey began in a very simple way, being drawn out of his work with Fortune 100 tech companies from questions generated by a crucifix and a triptych he noticed in his attorney’s office. The native of Seattle first encountered the Catholic faith through the countercultural example of that attorney, and his life has come full circle as he now prepares to minister to those in the tech and business world.
The 59-year-old priest is hoping to show businesspeople in the industry the joy and deeper meaning contained in the truths of the faith, things that were crucial to his own conversion story. He also hopes to reach Catholics in the industry, emboldening them to gracefully display their faith and show them how it can enrich their work.
After a very well-received homily at the recent SENT Ventures Summit for Catholic entrepreneurs in Washington, D.C., he spoke with the Register in May about his efforts.
Tell me about your background.
I was raised as a Presbyterian, and we went to church without fail every Sunday. My parents were very concerned that my three siblings and I were imbued with good moral and ethical values.
They also wanted to give us the tools that were necessary to help us get ahead. There was no question that we would go to college and acquire degrees that would help us in our careers. I studied electrical engineering and computer science. At university, it’s not that I abandoned my faith in reason; like so many others my age, I just abandoned it in practice.
After a couple of years of working for IBM in Florida, I came back to Seattle because I loved the city’s setting. I went to work for Paul Allen, who started Microsoft with Bill Gates. Like all aspiring software developers, we were going to change the world. I worked there for about three years, discovering that there’s simply not enough human interaction as a programmer. So, I shifted gears, became a networking infrastructure engineer and consulted back with Paul Allen and his growing portfolio of interests.
At first, I got involved networking and connecting his estates in Hawaii, Los Angeles, London and Seattle to the internet, but also his mega-yachts around the world. You have to remember, this was the 1990s, and it wasn’t easy to connect to the internet like it is now. We were developing a lot of the processes ourselves. It was fun.
I eventually broke away from that and took on a business partner in order to take advantage of the growing interest in the internet. That’s when we were asked to collaborate on a book about the internet and help address some of the difficulties the industry and others were having. Though there wasn’t a whole lot of online content at that time, everyone saw the huge potential. The book went on to be a big success and sold hundreds of thousands of copies — you can still find old copies on Amazon.
We used that capital from the book royalties to start another business in the field of computer network security. We knew that security would always be a concern and that it would never be commoditized. While we were adept at the technology, we were also very nimble We understood emerging technologies and their dangers. And we were challenged to come up with practical solutions that were not just innovative but also secure. That’s when we started to get offers from local and national Fortune 500 companies — companies that are common household names today.
Like so many others, I was turning into a workaholic, and this left little time to consider faith. Several developments, acquisitions, and start-ups later, I found that I could buy anything I wanted; I could go anywhere I wanted; I could set my own schedule. That’s when the bigger questions started to surface: “How come I was not super-happy? What’s this life all about? I have ‘everything,’ now what do I do? Do I continue to make more money, more money than I want or more money than I need?” I realized that’s not going to fulfill me any more than what I’ve already attained. So I was stuck.
Was there a person or event that was particularly significant, in terms of initially drawing you toward the Catholic Church?
My intellectual property attorney is the one who encouraged me. I hadn’t even met him in person until 1994. For two years prior, we did everything by phone. That all changed when contracts started rolling in and they began to be complex. When I entered his office, I immediately saw a crucifix and triptych on a credenza. I had a sense, but I casually asked him, “What’s this?” He said that the shrine is a daily reminder, a constant reminder, of Who’s in charge.
There was enough of my own background being raised as a Protestant that his words struck a chord. They are true! “Why doesn’t He ever enter into my life on a regular basis? Why is He not at work with me?”
So that moment put me on this trajectory. Over the five years of developing a relationship with my attorney and his family, I realized that the most important things in his life were his faith, then his family, and then his work — in that order. Most people don’t have that set of priorities. But I saw this working out well in his life, giving him a real peace and fulfillment that transcended the ups and downs of the work week. And in my heart, I knew I wanted that, too. That was what intrigued me enough to want to “figure this thing out.” Once I did, I knew I had to share it with others.
What were some additional turning points for your conversion, and what led you to the Dominicans?
In 1999, I took my attorney and two of his sons and his father-in-law on a trip to Rome. That’s when I discovered that there are two types of people that travel there: tourists and pilgrims. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I was the tourist, and they were very much pilgrims. “What were they getting out of this that I wasn’t? Where was this deeper joy coming from?”
Those questions were answered when I decided to take a three-month sabbatical by moving to Rome. Three months turned into 13 months. That’s because the number of graces that came my direction was like a book full of miracles. And it stood to reason — it was the year 2000 — the jubilee year.
The first time I met the Dominicans in Rome was by accident (Providence, really), and they pushed every positive button that was latent in me. I started going to Morning Prayer and Mass. Even though I wasn’t receiving Communion and it was in Italian, I was just so intrigued by this communal prayer. I made it part of my day. I also visited the Benedictines for Vespers every evening (their chanting is beautiful).
With some positive nudging from various religious and lay Catholics, I decided to take instruction on the faith from a couple of American priests residing in Rome. The following year, 2001, I was confirmed at the Dominican Church Santa Sabina in Rome. It was one of the happiest days of my life.
I came back and I thought, “I’m a Catholic … now what?” It took a few years to come to some conclusions, but to make a long story short, I eventually sold my company and took some time off to discern. A year later, I applied to the Dominicans, and I entered the novitiate in San Francisco when I was 42. In 2014 (eight years of formation later), I was ordained to the priesthood. My assignments for the next eight years were in parochial ministry, that is, until my provincial called late last year.
How did you end up evangelizing to Silicon Valley?
When I became Catholic back in 2001, it was abundantly clear to me [in Silicon Valley] that if you had any faith, you lived one life at home and another life at work. Part of it was just to be safe. You didn’t want to go out on a limb. You wanted to make yourself available for advancement. Religion was just a potential barrier. It has only gotten worse in the past five to 10 years. People actually work in fear that their faith might be “discovered” and that it will undermine their careers.
Interestingly, when I entered the Dominicans, there was a moment of sadness in me, the kind you feel when you leave one thing you enjoyed to focus on another good. I felt like I was leaving one world and entering another. I was faced with the mutually exclusive choice of being in technology or of being a Dominican. Obviously, I chose the latter.
Looking back, I can see how the Lord was helping me detach and give myself wholly to him. However, as I began my formation, I knew in the back of my mind that I’d return to minister to the people in business, especially tech. I could see how they needed way more help than was being given to them, because from what I could tell, the Church just wasn’t very well-equipped to serve them.
So as my formation continued, I began talking with my superiors about the need for the Gospels, the truth, to reach the worlds of business and technology. We needed to help show the industry that faith and reason, or rather, faith and science, were not at odds with each other. In fact, they’re both gifts from God.
It was eight years into being a Dominican priest when my provincial called last year and said, “I think it’s time for you to go back [to the tech industry].” I was a little surprised and thought, “Wait a minute, really?” But I quickly realized that the old concern I had was still a very real and growing problem. At the same time, the Church is shrinking at an alarming rate. We need to do something about it. We need to adapt, be nimble, and change evangelization efforts.
Pope Benedict XVI was the one that launched into this New Evangelization with his apostolic letter [addressing the Church’s shrinking numbers]. To be honest, the response from many bishops was, “We will do evangelization from our parishes.” That’s like preaching to the choir. And while the choir needs preaching, it’s not new and doesn’t address all the evangelization opportunities out there. We need to go not just to the margins, but past the margins, to the people who have never heard of the Gospel. And while we tend to think of the people in the margins as the materially poor, St. Teresa of Calcutta reminds us that [many of] the people of the United States, while materially well-off, are very much poor in spirit. Spiritual poverty is real and often overlooked. And it’s devastating.
How does your background inform your preaching?
Because I was involved in technology, not just from the engineering side, but also the business and investment side, I have more insight into the daily concerns of people in the industry than most priests and religious. I lived them myself. Going into these [tech] firms, I can already speak their language; I understand their concerns. Furthermore, because of my conversion, I’m a kind of living proof that there is a pathway to happiness that cannot be fulfilled by mere material goods.
I think my experience will resonate with both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Many people in tech are not just non-Catholic, but unaware of the truths of the Christian faith. This isn’t their fault; the past couple of generations never grew up with it. Either their parents or their grandparents rejected the faith. Thus, there was nothing to pass on. We can do something about that, though. We can help them.
What do your efforts look like at this point?
I’ve spent a lot of time talking to business leaders about the time-honored topics of the common good, sacrifice and how people can take care of themselves by taking care of others. This is a Christian message without overtly being threatening with Christian vocabulary, and it can do a lot of good. People also need Jesus Christ in their lives, but they also need to be ready to receive him. That’s why this is a process that plays out over time with patience, grace and charity. What we’re hoping for is that our work inspires people to say, “Tell me more,” and then I can start to unfold the faith more concretely, just like my attorney did for me in the 1990s.
Another thing I do is make sure I wear my Dominican habit as an invitation to conversation. You’d be surprised by the number of times people have inquired about my clothes just because they’re curious. They do not have the hang-ups or baggage that previous generations have had with habits. After all, if piercings and tattoos are acceptable and somewhat normative, my habit is kind of a badge of honor. It’s countercultural, and that resonates with tech people.
Ultimately, I’d like to work with Big Tech executives and leaders, helping them embrace principles that will drive real happiness and fulfillment for them and their teams, and cultivate real human friendships that inspire others and enhance productivity. After all, they can shape culture just by their decisions and their lifestyles.
Sadly, many tech and business leaders are depressed and unhappy and, secretly, very lonely. It’s hard for them to know who they can really confide in. And while they have achieved notoriety with wealth and fame, it’s also an incredible burden. It need not be that way, and our faith has lots of answers to the questions that they cannot even begin to ask, let alone answer. These are the people that are ripe for the joy that the Gospels offer. No thoughtful person is going to walk away thinking, “I don’t want joy in my life.” However, they may say, “I don’t want that if that means joining an institutional church and making all sorts of commitments.”
But Jesus is very patient, and I know this is a process. We’re in it for the long haul. Look at what happened to me.
What suggestion would you have for a Catholic working in Silicon Valley looking to evangelize?
As Catholics, we have no problem wearing a crucifix around our neck or at home having an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary or some other sort of religious imagery. But at the office, we’re much more cautious about our image. We hide crucifixes under our clothing. We rarely put things up at work, whether it’s in our cubicle or in our office. We think that these are the sorts of things that cause people to draw conclusions about us. They can be negative conclusions like: “That guy is religious and must be judgmental. Let’s stay away from him.” On the other hand, like with my attorney, it can also be an invitation to conversation and dialogue. If we Catholics cannot say, “This is who I am at this very basic level,” then we’re not doing the faith a service at all, and we’re not being authentic with our colleagues.
Drawing conclusions about people based on what they surround themselves with is a fundamental way of gaining knowledge about them. And it works with Catholics and Christians, as well. If a Catholic sees Catholic sacramentals around co-workers, bosses and employees at work, this can often lead to new connections and relationships that might not likely exist otherwise. These are the connections that we so desperately need, not just in our society, but especially in our work environments, where we can spend as many as eight to 10 hours per day. Nobody wants to be an island. After all, God created us to love.