Father Robert Owen – The Night Pastor

by | Mar 12, 2024 | Uncategorized

Father Robert Owen became known as “The Night Pastor,” revered for his support “to the musicians, bartenders, waiters, waitresses, singers, dancers and other who work or play in the Rush Street-Old Town areas of Chicago during the late evenings hours,” in the mid-‘60s. A piano player himself, Father Owen understood the many problems of the night people who did much of their work while the rest of the world played or slept.

Established in 1964 as part of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, Father Owen established himself to serve the Lord, preaching into the night ministering those “Night People.”

The Night Pastor program began because of Owen’s love of jazz: his friendships and collaborations with many of the musicians who played along Chicago’s Rush Street led him to suggest the idea. “When we stopped playing, the musicians would start telling me their troubles,” he told a Chicago Tribune reporter in 1965. “I began to see there was a real need for a ministry to the night people.”

His office at 30 E. Oak was in the Rush Street area above a hamburger stand at Rush and Oak, said to have been well trafficked by those seeking counsel long past business hours. The Dekalb Daily Chronicle noted, “Chicago Night Pastor Believes God Doesn’t Go to Bed at 10.” Wearing his clerical collar, Owen walked along dark sidewalks and dipped into bars to minister to people late into the night.

Just as important to the Chicago music scene, “Father Owen will fight rather than surrender to the idea that Chicago-style jazz is dead,” band leader Dave Remington wrote on the liner notes to the album The Night Pastor and Seven Friends Play Chicago Jazz. The album served a twofold purpose. One, as a fundraiser to support his work. And two, to highlight the sound of Chicago-style Dixieland jazz.

For the album, the seven friends were a who’s who of the Chicago jazz scene in the mid-‘60s led by trombonist Dave Remington along with Norman Murphy (trumpet), Andy Johnson (piano), Johnny Porrazzo (guitar, banjo), Joe Levinson (fiddle) Jerry Fuller (clarinet, saxophone) and Bob Cousins (drums) serving up a rambunctious, uptempo Dixieland jazz.

Two years later, the group would return to the studio to further support Father Owen’s ministry with Music to Lure Pigeons By.

His work was documented in a book titled Night Pastor (Greywood Publishing) by Brian Shaw published in 1968.

Father Owen continued his work up until his passing in 1970, having suffered a stroke at the age of 46. His work was continued by others into the mid-‘70s.


1965 The Night Pastor and Seven Friends – Play Chicago Jazz (Claremont 7098/7099)

1967 The Night Pastor – Music to Lure Pigeons By (Claremont 672)