Msgr. Lowery presents a diploma to a Red Bank Catholic High School graduate during the 2019 commencement exercises. John Batkowski photo
Msgr. Lowery presents a diploma to a Red Bank Catholic High School graduate during the 2019 commencement exercises. John Batkowski photo

In the days since the death of Msgr. Philip Lowery was announced by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., scores of condolence messages and fond memories have been shared by those who knew him and served with him throughout many of his 43 years of priesthood.

Msgr. Lowery, the longtime pastor of St. James Parish, Red Bank, and director of Red Bank Catholic High School, died on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28.

Funeral services will be held in St. James Church, 94 Broad St., Red Bank: Visitation on Dec. 4 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. with a Vigil Mass at 7 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated Dec. 5 at 10 a.m. with Bishop O’Connell presiding. Burial will be in Mount Olivet Cemetery, 100 Chapel Hill Road, Middletown.

Ministry of Compassion, Courage

Msgr. Lowery was born in February 1949 and grew up in Jersey City and attended the town’s Sacred Heart School and St. Mary School before pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Holy Apostles College and Seminary, Cromwell, Conn. He completed his graduate studies in Mount St. Mary Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md., and was ordained a priest May 22, 1976, by Bishop George W. Ahr in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.

His first assignment as a newly ordained priest was to St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, where he was parochial vicar from 1976 to 1987. He then spent two months serving as the parish’s temporary administrator before he was named parochial vicar of St. Barnabas Parish, Bayville, where he spent three years from 1987 to 1990.

On July 27, 1990, Msgr. Lowery was named temporary administrator of St. James Parish and was installed as pastor later that year. With that, he was also appointed director of Red Bank Catholic High School and St. James Grammar School, assignments he held for the next 29 years, making him longest serving pastor of that parish community.

Along with parish duties, Msgr. Lowery was active on a diocesan level, serving on the Council of Priests and diocesan College of Consultors in the late 1980s.

Since the mid-1990s, he had served as chaplain of the New Jersey State Police and in that capacity, he had opportunities to assist the wider community by providing spiritual support and counseling for officers and their families and being of assistance to those in times of distress. Highlights of his chaplaincy career included his being among the first responders during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in which he worked with New Jersey’s Urban Search and Rescue, Task Force 1 at Ground Zero. He had also traveled to New Orleans in 2005 to support the recovery efforts following Hurricane Katrina, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, he, along with Bishop O’Connell, visited parishes and places along coastal Monmouth and Ocean Counties that were impacted by the disaster.

As chaplain, Msgr. Lowery had also been involved with the annual Diocesan Celebration of Law Enforcement, or Blue Mass, which was instituted in 2000 as part of the diocesan commemoration of the Great Jubilee Year. Each year, the Blue Mass draws law enforcement officials from local, county, state and federal levels to St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral for Mass and is an occasion that provides the faithful with a prayerful opportunity to thank, acknowledge and pray for all law enforcement officials who selflessly put their lives at rise each day as they seek to protect their fellow citizens.

Respected Mentor, Beloved Friend

“Msgr. Lowery was the spiritual father and consistent leader of the community of Red Bank Catholic, St. James Grade School, and the St. James community,” recalled Father Thomas Barry, a priest of the Diocese who has known Msgr. Lowery for 10 years and regards St. James as his home parish.

“I think that what all communities will remember most about Msgr. Lowery is that he was a loving father who cared deeply by praying for them every day. He was a strong leader that made these communities thrive by his wisdom of leadership. The people [and] parishioners will remember most that he loved them and will continue to love them through Christ our Lord,” said Father Barry, who currently serves as parochial vicar in the parishes of St. James, Pennington; St. George, Titusville, and St. Alphonsus, Hopewell.

Robert Abatemarco, principal of Red Bank Catholic High School, smiled as thought back to more than 40 years ago when he met the young Father Lowery, who was a red-headed priest, full of energy and had an infectious smile “that let you know instantly that he was open and friendly.”

Over the years,  Abatemarco said that Msgr. Lowery had shared in the good times as well as the difficult times in the lives of many people, including his own. He noted that Msgr. Lowery had been present for many family celebrations including weddings, Baptisms, First Holy Communions and was also “a needed voice of comfort during difficult days.”

Acknowledging Msgr. Lowery as a staunch supporter of Catholic education, Abatemarco said that the priest “never wavered in his love and belief that educating young people in the faith built the future of our Church.  

“He reveled in the successes of 'his kids,'” whether it was driving into New York City to see them perform at Carnegie Hall, blessing their rings or listening to their young voices during the May Crowning.

“Monsignor found joy in all of it,” Abatemarco said, and “We came to love the man. We admired his strength and resolve to lead in Catholic education. We will miss his healing and faith-filled examples as priest.  It is a deep sense of personal loss we feel, but it is also a loss for our Church, and Catholic education.  However, we are better and stronger, because we came to know him.

“Go with God, loyal servant,” Abatemarco said. “Go with our prayers and love.”

Reflecting on Msgr. Lowery’s death, the New Jersey State Police posted an online message that spoke of how the priest was a loved and respected chaplain who “provided prayers and benedictions for state police class graduations, counseled and comforted law enforcement officers in their time of need and presided over line of duty funerals.”

That message also included remarks from Col. Patrick Callahan, who recalled Msgr. Lowery as a “pillar and a beacon of light in our organization.

“He was a friend, a confidant and a mentor to hundreds of troopers and their families for more than two decades including mine,” stated Col. Callahan. “As we mourn his passing, we take solace in knowing that the wisdom, love and guidance he provided to our members will forever be passed down to future generations of New Jersey State Troopers.”

Upon learning of Msgr. Lowery’s passing, members of the diocesan Blue Mass Committee shared in an email exchange, words of tribute and love for their friend, “Msgr. Phil.”

Howard “Bud” Allaire said he first met Msgr. Lowery 20 years ago when the Diocese held its first Blue Mass. During those 20 years, Msgr. Lowery served as the clergy coordinator for the Mass and for the past eight years, Allaire chaired the committee responsible for planning the Mass.

“One of Msgr. Lowery’s duties was to address the assembly at the end of Mass and he never failed to acknowledge those who worked behind the scenes,” Allaire said.

“Mostly, I will remember his support for the law enforcement community,” Allaire said, adding that besides serving as chaplain for the New Jersey State Police, Msgr. Lowery  was also chaplain for the Police Departments of NJ Honor Legion, which is the largest fraternal police organization in the state and of which Allaire is a member.

“Msgr. Lowery had become a friend I could always trust to guide me in whatever decision I had to make, especially for the Blue Mass,” Allaire said. “The Law Enforcement community has lost its loudest trumpeter!

“God bless Msgr. Phil, a true gentleman,” was the statement made by Stephen Montgomery.

Pete J. Stilianessis, president of the State Troopers NCO Association, wrote, “I loved him like a father. He was the foundation of the State Police. Monsignor always protected us.” 

Frederick Deickmann, director of civilian security at the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office, remarked on the friendship the law enforcement community had with Msgr. Lowery.

“We will remember him forever. God bless him,” said Deickmann.

Juan Mattos Jr., U.S. Marshal, District of New Jersey, and retired lieutenant colonel in the New Jersey State Police, wrote, “I am thankful that he was a part of my life. I will miss my friend,” he said.

In her message, Michelle Carroll said, “I’m so grateful for his guidance and kindness.  God bless him. May he rest in peace.”

Joe Mannucci offered a prayer saying, “May God hold you in the palm of his hand, Monsignor.  I will miss my dear friend.  Enjoy your eternal reward.”