Divine Word Missionaries blog will share some of the latest mission updates from around the world. The more than 6,000 Divine Word Missionaries are serving in 84 countries with a variety of provinces/regions that are then grouped into four zones, namely, the European zone (EUROPA), the Pan-American zone (PANAM), the Asia-Pacific zone (ASPAC), and the Africa-Madagascar zone (AFRAM). The zones may work as geographical sub-zones wherever this seems suitable. Check back often for real-time stories from the missions.
Remembering Bishop Bowers
Nov 30, 2018
November is Black Catholic History Month, so before it ends we wish to commemorate a black Divine Word Missionary, Joseph Bowers SVD, who made history when he was appointed bishop of Accra, Ghana.
The future bishop was born in 1910 on the Caribbean island of Dominica (which should not be confused with the Dominican Republic). His father was a primary school teacher and organist at the family’s Catholic parish. Bowers entered the Society of the Divine Word in 1933 at St. Augustine in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, the first seminary in the United States opened to black men who wished to become priests or Brothers. He was ordained to the priesthood on Jan. 1939, and a year later was sent to Ghana—then still called the Gold Coast—to serve as a Divine Word Missionary.
In the years after World War II, the movement for Ghanaian independence from the United Kingdom gained steam. This was the political backdrop as the Holy See initially appointed Fr. Bowers auxiliary bishop of Accra. Before his ordination, however, Vatican officials saw the wisdom in making Fr. Bowers an ordinary bishop in a rapidly developing West African nation. The bishop at the time, Adolph Noser SVD, willingly stepped aside and later became a bishop in Papua New Guinea.
Fr. Bowers officially was appointed bishop of Accra on Jan. 8, 1953, making him the diocese’s first black bishop. Because his episcopal ordination was in Mississippi, he was also the first black bishop consecrated in the United States. On April 22 Bowers was ordained a bishop by Cardinal Francis Spellman at the Church of Our Lady of the Gulf in Bay St. Louis. He was the first of nine Catholic bishops to have graduated from St. Augustine.
Bowers was bishop in Accra for nearly 20 years. He is credited with tripling the number of baptized Catholics in his diocese and with greatly increasing the number of priests in Ghana. He established many churches, hospitals and schools, including St. John’s Seminary and College, now known Pope John Senior High School and Minor Seminary. In 1957 he co-founded an order for women religious, the Handmaids of the Divine Redeemer (HDR).
His legacy lived on in Ghana after his departure. In 1975, the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters (SSpS) founded Bishop Bowers School in the Archdiocese of Accra. On its first day, the school opened its doors to 226 students. The school remains open today.
Bishop Bowers left Ghana in 1971 and was transferred to the newly established Diocese of St. John’s (now the Diocese of St. John’s-Basseterre) in the Caribbean. He retired from Church office in 1981 and remained in the Caribbean, including a spell in his home island of Dominica, for 16 years.
In 1997 he journeyed back to Ghana to celebrate the ruby jubilee of the Handmaids of the Divine Redeemer. The Sisters invited him to stay, offering to care for him in his remaining years, and he accepted. When Bishop Bowers passed away on Nov. 6, 2012, at age 102, he was the third-oldest bishop in the Catholic Church.