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Creating an Endowed Scholarship as a Way to Honor Those We Love

Rev. J. Paul Downey Scholarship Endowment Fund 

This endowment scholarship is to honor a wonderful father for his profound and thoughtful thinking. He was known for his loving pastoral work and his scholarship in the ministry. 

Carolyn Downey, daugher of J. Paul and Ruth Downey

J. Paul Downey was born in Bethany, Oklahoma on March 24,1914. His parents, Ed and Cornelia Downey, could not decide on his first name—all the ones they discussed started with the letter “J” and so they decided to just use the “J.” as his first name. They called him Paul.

My grandfather was a construction supervisor and built the first building at Bethany Nazarene College, now Southern Nazarene University. This original administration building is today’s Bresee Hall.

When father was five, the family moved to Pasadena, California where they attended Bresee Nazarene Church. Later, father attended Pasadena College, a Nazarene University, and graduated in 1936. During his college years, he met his wife and my mother, Ruth Willis, and they married after father’s graduation. Immediately after the wedding, father was assigned to ministry in the far-away state of Alabama.

My parents served in several ministries while in Alabama. Dad was a young dynamic minister and mother was a talented music director. My father walked several miles to the University of Alabama (in Tuscaloosa) where he received his Master’s Degree. Needless to say, he became a lifelong Crimson Tide fan!

A few years later, my parents moved to Selma, Alabama. I was born in Selma on June 3, 1939. My parents had a two-room wooden home with a wood stove and an outhouse. Father talked about all the unpainted shacks around the church and how sad it was. The church in Selma was small with lots of windows which dad would have wide open. 

Father would often tell the story about how deeply-rooted segregation was in the south. African Americans were not even allowed inside their church. In spite of that, African Americans would come for services and sit around the outside of the church. They would sit on the ground, sing the songs and amen the messages with a deep spirituality and great soulfulness. Often, there were more people outside the church than inside. The culture of the South, especially in regard to segregation, was quite a revelation for my parents. Years later, in the 1970s, I went to visit her birthplace and saw the house and church that were still the same. The unpainted shacks were still there with lots of family members on the porches and steps.

Here is a photo of my parents outside their home which was a two-room house with an out-house in the back.  You can also see a portion of the church in the background.

Often, our church in Selma was unable to pay my father’s salary, but we were never in need of food. The parishioners would bring food and quilted blankets to our family. My uncle, Dick Willis, would send some of his salary for my parents to live on. Uncle Dick even bought them their first china set which mother used for years as she entertained in the parsonage.

My parents were always upset about the bigotry in the south and could not adjust to treating people this way, so they decided to go back to California.  They moved to Merced, California where father pastored for five years.  There were two different church buildings during this time. 

Father built a new church and parsonage in Merced, California. It’s a church that Ruth and Carolyn visited from time to time over the years.  It was fun for them to see it still intact as a non-denominational church with great spiritual parishioners. When the our family left Merced, a young man named Jim Jackson took father’s place. Interestingly Jim is now the chaplain at White Sands; he celebrated mother’s 98th and 99th birthdays with her and also came to pray with her the day she passed. 

After Merced, we moved to Walla Walla, Washington where we lived for eight years. Father pastored the First Nazarene Church. During this time, mother went back to school at Whitman College where she completed the two years needed to receive her Bachelor’s Degree and then continued to achieve her Master’s Degree.  

After Walla Walla, father pastored for five years the First Church of the Nazarene in Yakima, Washington then we moved to Phoenix, Arizona where father pastored the First Church of the Nazarene and mother was in charge of the music as well as teaching full time. My parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary while in Phoenix.  

During his years as a pastor, father was very active in District Assemblies and General Assemblies. He was known for his scholarly yet down to earth messages.  Father told me that it was difficult to keep people’s attention for more than 15 minutes, so he prepared messages to last no longer than 15 minutes and always had a beginning, three points will scriptural reference and a story, and ended with a summary. He was a smart man!

J. Paul Downey passed away on February 13, 1970 of a cerebral hemorrhage a few weeks before his 56th birthday while changing planes in Chicago. He was greatly missed. With donations which came in to honor his life, several churches were built in Mexico.

The following are two photos of Paul with his wife, Ruth, just before he passed away.

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