Father Bowden captured in a reflective moment after morning Mass in St. Gregory the Great Church.  Joe Moore photo

Father Bowden captured in a reflective moment after morning Mass in St. Gregory the Great Church.  Joe Moore photo

Father John V. (Jay) Bowden puts the five decades of his priestly life in the same context as the “big jubilee celebration” members of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, feted him with May 26.

“It’s all been wonderful,” said Father Bowden during a recent interview on his vocation. “The celebration with a Mass and luncheon was wonderful and my 50 years in the priesthood is wonderful – sometimes challenging, not always easy – but truly a blessing from God.”

The celebration in St. Gregory the Great where he has been helping out since his 2006 retirement was held on the “actual anniversary” of his 1962 ordination, which was significant for him.

Back then, he noted, he was one of 12 men ordained in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, by Bishop George W. Ahr. This momentous occasion set the stage for what turned out to be a very blessed life, he said.

It also signaled the start of a ministry on familiar ground. His first assignment was to St. Rose of Lima Parish, Freehold, where his beloved uncle, Msgr. John Kucker, was pastor.

Before going to seminary, he and his family often summered in St. Rose of Lima Parish. He remembers feeling right at home when Bishop Ahr told him where his first appointment would be.

Born in Trenton in 1936, to John and Margaret Bowden, Father Bowden grew up in Blessed Sacrament Parish, Trenton, went to school there and graduated from Trenton Catholic High School in 1954.

Father Bowden prepared for the priesthood in St. Charles College, Catonsville, Md., and St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore.

In addition to St. Rose of Lima, he also served in the following parishes as parochial vicar: St. Matthew, Edison (now the Metuchen Diocese); St. Mary of the Lakes, Medford; St. Joseph, Beverly; St. Veronica, Howell, and St. Joan of Arc, Marlton.

He was temporary administrator of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Whitehouse Station (now the Metuchen Diocese) and St. Mark Parish, Sea Girt.

Father Bowden was pastor of St. Raphael Parish, Hamilton; St. Alphonsus Parish, Hopewell and Epiphany Parish, Brick, where he served from 1993 until his retirement in Dec. 2006.

Aside from parish duties, he devoted himself to helping to develop and foster  the Cursillo Movement in the Trenton Diocese.

Father Bowden said his long commitment to Cursillo began when parishioners who attended a Cursillo weekend in Buffalo, N.Y. found the experience so uplifting they asked his help in bringing the movement to the Trenton Diocese.

Cursillo originated in Spain in the mid-1940s,  said Father Bowden. He noted that the word is Spanish for “a short course” – in this case, a “short course in Christianity”—which takes place over three-day Cursillo weekends which are the hallmark of the now world-wide spiritual movement.

The National Cursillo Center in Jarrell, Texas, describes Cursillo as a “deliberate act” to bring Jesus Christ into the world for the purpose of changing the environments people find themselves in. “Cursillistas” who have experienced the initial three-day Cursillo Weekend are encouraged to become “agents for change” in their families, their neighborhoods, work and social environments.

The impact of making his own initial three-day Cursillo Weekend in early 1967 in Brooklyn led to a period of introspection and reflection. After much prayer, he and a core group of faithful from the Trenton Diocese asked for and received permission from Bishop Ahr to begin an English-speaking Cursillo here.

Father Bowden, who served as spiritual director of Cursillo from 1972-1977, 1982-1985, and 1996-2010, has always stayed connected to the movement.   “Our first Cursillo weekend was held on Pentecost in the Divine Word Seminary in Bordentown. It was well attended. One of the big stresses of Cursillo is that you are formed by your own prayer life.”

He’s pleased that the movement is very much alive in the diocese. Well supported by faithful and committed members, the Cursillo weekends continue to serve faithful in the diocese.

Also actively involved in the Charismatic movement over the years and with Marriage Encounter, he volunteers with Rachael’s Vineyard, a ministry which devotes itself to helping women and men heal from the trauma of, or involvement with, abortion.

 “We do two weekend [retreats] a year,” he said. “It’s a tough weekend but a very meaningful one for those who participate. Once you get involved [in this ministry], you understand how important it is to the people who attend.”

Father Bowden said this ministry is but one facet of a very meaningful retirement which has enabled him to help out with Mass, fulfill the chaplain’s role for the Knights of Columbus in St. Gregory the Great Parish and tend to the garden of his spiritual life.

He’s been able to focus more on prayer, increasing the amount of time he has to spend in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and attending retreats, such as a recent, seven-day silent retreat in Francis House of Prayer, Rancocas, a diocesan spiritual center.

“Having this time,” he says, is “a great blessing for me.”