Diocesan Council of Catholic Women leaders remember Father Bowens Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Jane Lepeska Grinde, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016 -- 12:00 AM
With Fr. Loren “Larry” Bowens at the 2014 Madison Diocesan Council of Catholic Women convention in Baraboo are Lynn Geitz, left, and Rosa Ropers. (Kathy Loy photo)

“I just loved him,” said Irene Sullivan of Fr. Loren “Larry” Bowens, who died December 30 while still serving as priest co-moderator of the Madison Diocesan Council of Catholic Women (MDCCW).

Sullivan, Lake Mills, was president of the MDCCW Board from 1977 to 1978 when she was a member of St. Pius X Parish, Cambridge.

“He could be my son. I liked him very much. His homilies were very down to earth, the kind you could relate to,” she said.

A Mass of Christian Burial for Father Bowens was celebrated January 5 at Holy Family Church, La Valle, one of three churches which Father Bowens served. He also served as pastor of St. Boniface, Lime Ridge, and St. Patrick, Loreto.

Down to earth, spiritual, humble priest

Those who worked with him on the MDCCW board consistently used the words “down to earth, “deeply spiritual,” and “humble” to describe Fr. Bowens.

Sullivan and other past presidents noted that he was able to challenge them in a respectful way.

Dorene Shuda, Jefferson, president from 1995 to 1997, said he sometimes delivered an unpopular message. She said, “He would plead with us to be more accepting and open minded.

“You want people to do something, but then you don’t let them do it. If you want them to share their gifts, you have to let them, he would tell us.

“Father Larry tried to teach us to be mentors rather than dictators,” said Shuda. “He was our best critic. He called us to be spiritual rather than functional, to be more loving and more helpful than hurtful, less judgmental. He reminded us that attitudes can drive people away or to make bad decisions.”

Attention to children

Shuda as well as Pat Fisher, Madison, president following Shuda, got to know Father Bowens as a young priest. He was associate pastor at St. Dennis Parish in Madison and then at St. John the Baptist Parish, Jefferson.

Both women had children in the respective schools and appreciated his attention to the children. Fisher said he would come in to talk with the children in the school, and in the evening, he would work with the CCD children. He would stop in at the home and school meeting. “He was always there,” she said.

Love of nature

Jane Bernhardt, Cassville, MDCCW president from 1991 to 1992, said of him, “Such a humble man, always very laid back.”

She saw his gardening and love of nature bringing him closer to God.

He looked for an unusual interpretation of Scripture and was always willing to give advice when asked.

Bernhardt added that he closed his conversations with “a little half chuckle that made one think he was a happy man.”

Rita Macewicz, Beloit, president from 2006 to 2008 and province director the next two years, said Father Bowens was “such a good inspiration to all of us, folksy, down-to-earth, with a sense of humor. He mixed with the people wherever they were.”

Insights into Lenten practices

Grant Vicariate President Bernadette Shaefer, Lancaster, remembers a homily Father Larry gave at Mass for a vicariate meeting during Lent. “He talked about giving something up and replacing it with something else. It could be giving up TV or computer time and using that time to study about our faith.

“His point was that we shouldn’t just focus on giving something up but also think about doing something positive. For me it was a new way of looking at Lenten penance.”

Scripture and life

His ability to relate Scripture to ordinary life was reflected in the last message he wrote for the MDCCW newsletter in spring 2014.

The Feast of St. Joseph as well as the tradition of the St. Joseph Table carried out by women in one of his parishes prompted him to write about the challenges that Joseph faced and many men today face.

“In this year of reading Matthew’s Gospel, we have been reminded of how Joseph experienced Jesus’ coming. The more familiar Luke’s infancy stories tell us about Mary’s experiences, but Matthew tells us about how things were from Joseph’s point of view.”

Acknowledging that women face new challenges as well, Father Bowens wrote, “They are pulled in more directions than their great-grandmothers were. They have less flexibility to help with Council of Catholic Women and parish events.

“Working with a spouse in a family business had its own stresses, but now there are often different stresses. Changing women’s roles certainly affect men, and Joseph is a useful example to men struggling with change.”

Concluding the column with a reference to a recent Baptism he conducted in his parish of a child whose parents had busy careers, Father Bowens wrote, “May Joseph’s struggles with Mary’s unexpected pregnancy -- the necessity of protecting her from the vicious gossip and perhaps physical attacks might have taken place in their small community and the necessity of fleeing to Egypt over this adopted son -- give us insight into some of the challenge families face.”

Co-moderator comments

Msgr. Duane Moellenberndt, pastor, Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Parish, Sun Prairie, who shared the role with Father Bowens of co-moderator of MDCCW for over 20 years, said of his brother priest, “He was so committed to the Council of Catholic Women and furthering the work of our organization. Father Larry was more than ready to go the extra mile.”

Continuing, Monsignor Moellenberndt said, “I found Father Larry to be a spiritual man with a love for Scripture and for prayer. His sense of humor was a gift to all who were privileged to know him. His sudden death leaves a great void for the MDCCW and his parishioners.”

Offered encouragement and support

Current MDCCW President Rosa Ropers, Waunakee, described Father Larry as “a very devoted and thoughtful person who would always be there to encourage and support one when they needed it the most. When I agreed to accept the nomination for MDCCW president several years ago, he told me that I would be a good president and he thanked me for accepting that office.”

Ropers said the board appreciated Father Bowens’ patience and advice. “He respected the board and its members. When he was the homilist for liturgy at a vicariate meeting, he connected the entire meeting to the readings of the day that encouraged the group’s faith in our actions and validated why we belonged to the Council of Catholic Women.

“For his guidance, support, and prayers, I will always respect and appreciate all the time and talents that he gave to us. He will truly be missed by all of us,” said Ropers.