By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
In his 57 years of priestly ministry, Father John V. (Jay) Bowden became known for reaching out to help people find their way to Christ in the parishes and ministries he served, especially the diocesan Cursillo.
On July 9, the vast sanctuary of St. Gregory the Great Church, Hamilton Square, reflected the success of that mission as hundreds gathered to honor Father Bowden, who died July 3 in Morris Hall, Lawrenceville, after an extended illness. He was 82.
Msgr. Casimir Ladzinski, a retired priest of the Diocese and Father Bowden’s seminary classmate, celebrated the Mass of Christian Burial, and more than 40 diocesan priests concelebrated. Deacons from the parishes Father Bowden served over the decades assisted in the liturgy.
Scores of Cursillistas, couples who met him during Marriage Encounter, parishioners and adults who remember him as the priest who prepared them for the Sacraments, were among those who filled the pews.
Deacon Anthony Martucci of St. Pius X Parish, Forked River, preached the homily during which he remembered Father Bowden, whom he first met through Cursillo in 1967, as a priest who was unfailingly generous with his talent, time and possessions.
“On a moment’s notice, he showed us the face of Christ,” in the parish and in ministries from Cursillo to the diocesan Catholic Charismatic Renewal program, to weekends of spiritual healing and renewal through the Genessaret and Rachel’s Vineyard retreats, Deacon Martucci said.
“He shared his enthusiasm and his faith and his love of people. What made him special was his wonderful, gentle spirit and compassionate help in bringing Christ to others,” throughout his active ministry and later in his retirement, Deacon Martucci said.
Faith and Service
Father Bowden was born in Trenton in 1936 to John and Margaret Bowden and grew up in Blessed Sacrament Parish (now part of Sacred Heart Parish), Trenton, where he graduated from the parish grammar school in 1950 and from Trenton Catholic High School in 1954.
He prepared for the priesthood in St. Charles College, Catonsville, Md., and St. Mary Seminary and University, Baltimore. He was ordained a priest May 26, 1962, by Bishop George W. Ahr in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.
The newly ordained priest’s first assignment was as parochial vicar of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Freehold, where his great-uncle, Msgr. John Kucker, was pastor. Other parishes where Father Bowden served as parochial vicar were St. Matthew, Edison, (now part of the Metuchen Diocese); St. Mary of the Lakes, Medford; St. Joseph, Beverly (now part of Jesus the Good Shepherd Parish, Beverly); St. Veronica, Howell, and St. Joan of Arc, Marlton.
Father Bowden was temporary administrator in Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Whitehouse Station (now in the Metuchen Diocese), and St. Mark Parish, Sea Girt. As pastor, he served in St. Raphael Parish, Hamilton (now part of St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, Hamilton); St. Alphonsus Parish, Hopewell, and Epiphany Parish, Brick, where he served from 1993 until his retirement in December 2006.
Along with his parish responsibilities, Father Bowden devoted several terms to serving as the spiritual director for the English-speaking diocesan Cursillo movement. (Cursillo is an apostolic movement founded by laity in Spain more than 70 years ago). Over the years, Father Bowden has always stayed connected to the movement, serving as spiritual director from 1972 to 1977, 1982-1985, and 1996-2010.
Other positions Father Bowden held include the Council of Priests in which he served one term as vice chairman, the Charismatic movement and Marriage Encounter. He also volunteered with Rachel’s Vineyard, a ministry that devotes itself to helping women and men heal from the trauma of, or involvement with, abortion, and Genessaret Retreats for those who are profoundly ill.
Upon his retirement as pastor of Epiphany Parish, Father Bowden resided in Villa Vianney, the diocesan residence for retired priests in Lawrenceville, and served a parish assignment in St. Gregory the Great Parish until the time of his illness.
As the Mass concluded, Msgr. Thomas J. Mullelly, diocesan vicar for clergy and consecrated life, read a message from Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., sharing his regret that he was unable to attend the Mass for “a wonderful priest who served for 57 years.”
The Bishop noted the enthusiasm with which Father Bowden continued to serve in St. Gregory the Great Parish throughout his retirement.
Msgr. Ladzinski, who first met Father Bowden in 1954 in the seminary, recalled how they had been ordained on the same day and followed the same path for 57 years. “He was dedicated to his vocation.”
On a light note, Msgr. Ladzinski reminded all of Father Bowden’s love of baseball, saying it was fitting that “today, Jay would have been watching the All-Star Game. Tonight, he has a box seat in heaven.”
After Mass, Janet Fitzgerald, a member of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, was one of many Cursillistas to share sentiments about Father Bowden. “He was a shepherd of the people,” she said. “He was such a good, solid, loving man. He cared about people, and when he talked to you, he talked to you.”
Lori LaPlante, a member of St. Gregory the Great Parish and pastoral associate in Holy Cross Parish, Rumson, recalled first meeting Father Bowden when she was in second grade in St. Veronica Parish, Howell. “He was preparing us for our sacraments, and I remember being awed by his sense of humor and his warmth.”
Having Father Bowden spend his retirement years at St. Gregory the Great, she said, “was amazing. Father Bowden was just such an inspiration about what you can do with your retirement. He was an example to everyone here. And everyone is going to miss him.”
Father Bowden is survived by his sister, Judith Sost; two nephews and several great-nephews and great-nieces, as well as many cousins and close friends. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to St. Gregory the Great Parish, 4620 Nottingham Way, Hamilton Square, N.J. 08690.