Bowen, III, Father John Wesley, S.S.
2012, May 6
Date of Birth: 1924, June 24
In Luke’s Gospel (19:12-27), we read of the master who gave his servants money (or talents) to use while he was away. Upon his return, he asked for an accounting from each of how they used what they had been given. He praised each of those who used his gift well as a “good and faithful servant.” These same attributes can be ascribed to Fr. John Wesley Bowen III, S.S.
Born June 24, 1924 and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, Fr. Bowen was the eldest of three children of Anna Dolores (nee Kircher) and John Bowen. He was educated in Baltimore parochial elementary and secondary schools: St. Charles College, a minor seminary in Catonsville and St. Mary’s Seminary at Paca Street. He completed his theological studies at St. Mary’s Seminary in Roland Park after which he was ordained to the priesthood on June 4, 1949 for the Archdiocese of Baltimore at the then Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fr. Bowen immediately joined the Society of St. Sulpice.
Attending The Catholic University of America, he earned his Licentiate in Sacred Theology (1950) and a M.A. degree in church history (1962). He wrote his M.A. thesis on the Basilica (formerly Cathedral) of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore, a subject on which he remained an expert for the rest of his life.
After ordination Fr. Bowen returned to the high school division of St. Charles College as a Sulpician candidate to teach Latin, Greek and English from 1949-1951. He was admitted to the Society of St. Sulpice as a definitive member after completing his Solitude in 1952. For the next eleven years (1952-1963) at the high school of St. Charles College, Fr. Bowen taught Latin, English, and American History, served as Director of Liturgy and as moderator of the Alumni magazine.
In 1963 Fr. Bowen was assigned to St. Edward’s Minor Seminary in Kenmore, Washington where he taught English, American History and served as the high school principal for ten years. When St. Edward’s closed in 1976, he moved to St. Edward’s Hall, a residence for high school seminarians who attended Kennedy High School. He remained there for three and a half years until his sabbatical in 1979.
Transferred to Baltimore in 1980, Fr. Bowen became the historian for the Society of St. Sulpice, Province of the United States and joined Rev. Vincent M. Eaton, S.S. in organizing the Province’s archives in the lower level of Our Lady of the Angels Chapel in Catonsville. Together they transformed it into a model program for religious archives. Fr. Bowen soon became noted for his encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the Sulpicians, the alumni of their institutions, and the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He shared his knowledge generously with researchers who came to consult the collections and in responding to the many thousands of requests he answered over the years.
He was a frequent contributor of articles to publications of Sulpician seminaries and Whence, a newsletter published by the Sulpician Archives. He worked closely with Dr. Christopher Kauffman, who was commissioned to write the bicentennial history of the Province of the United States of the Sulpicians.
Fr. Bowen retired as archivist in 1995, but maintained an office in the archives, always making himself available when his expertise was requested. Visitors will remember the knee-high piles of newspapers that covered the floor in his office. The newspapers were from dioceses around the country. In his role as an indefatigable editor of St. Mary’s Seminary & University’s Class Notes, he weekly combed through many diocesan newspapers to track the assignments and accomplishments of alumni. For his contribution, in 2011 he was awarded the Olier Medal as an outstanding priestly alumnus by St. Mary’s Seminary & University.
Fr. Bowen officially became a retired Sulpician in 1995 and moved to St. Charles Villa Retirement Community. But retirement did not slow him down. He remained active in ministry until the very end of his life. He gave more than thirty years of service to St. Mark’s parish in Catonsville, more than twenty years of service to the Christian Brothers at Calvert Hall, and twenty years of service as weekday chaplain at the Motherhouse of the Oblate Sisters of Providence.
Fr. Bowen had a special commitment to the Oblate Sisters by serving as Vice-Postulator for the canonization cause of Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange (c. 1784-1882), foundress of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first religious community for women of color in the country and a community that has had close ties to the Sulpicians over its history. From 1982-2009, he served as priest-moderator to the Board of the Mother Seton House on Paca Street, Inc., a group that restored and maintained the Sulpician-owned house where St. Elizabeth Ann Seton lived from 1808 to 1809. The Mother Seton House was located on the grounds of the original campus of St. Mary’s Seminary (est. 1791), and Fr. Bowen frequently gave tours of the house and the historic site to its many visitors.
Fr. Bowen was awarded the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, a papal honor recognizing his distinguished service to the church.
On May 6, 2012 Fr. Bowen died unexpectedly at St. Agnes Hospital Catonsville, Maryland. On May 15, 2012, Fr. Bowen was buried in the Sulpician Cemetery in Catonsville, Maryland following three funeral liturgies that were filled to overflowing. He had one funeral at the Motherhouse of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, one at St. Mark’s parish, and a third at the Chapel of Our Lady of the Angels where he had prayed as a seminarian and young Sulpician. At this his Mass of Resurrection Very Rev. Thomas R. Ulshafer, S.S., Provincial presided and Fr. Bowen’s brother, Deacon James E. Bowen was the homilist.
Priest, educator, archivist, historian, he was all of these things. To those who knew him, however, Fr. Bowen will be remembered as a good and faithful servant, of humble manner and generous spirit.
Richard M. Gula, S.S.
Director of Personnel