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Death of late Archbishop Michael Bowen RIP

By Katie Ascough - 18 October, 2019

The death has occurred of Archbishop Michael Bowen.

Born in Gibraltar on 23 April 1930, Archbishop Michael Bowen grew up in Wimbledon, south-west London. He had one brother and his father was killed in action in Norway during the Second World War when Michael was ten years old.  

In 1949 he was called up for National Service and commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Irish Guards, his father’s regiment. Afterward, he spent a year at Trinity College, Cambridge, and worked briefly in the wine trade.

He began studies for the priesthood at the Venerable English College in Rome in 1952. During his time there, he produced Gilbert and Sullivan operas and played cricket in a league. He gained theology and philosophy degrees from the Gregorian University and was ordained a priest in Rome on 6 July 1958.

His first post was as a curate to St Gregory’s, Earlsfield. In 1960 he moved to the English Martyrs, Walworth, where he taught at St Augustine’s House, a hostel for working men who were thinking about the priesthood.

Along with Cardinal John Heenan, late Archbishop Michael Bowen represented the Bishops of England and Wales at the 1971 Synod of Bishops. From 1972 to 1975 he was co-chairman of the Catholic/Methodist International Commission, and, following the death of Archbishop Cyril Cowderoy, he was appointed Archbishop and Metropolitan of Southwark on 23 April 1977.

Another of his achievements was implementing a major reorganisation of secondary schools in south London and creating its first sixth form college. He set up chaplaincies for universities in south London and several chaplaincies for ethnic communities.

Pressures on marriage and family life were a concern to him. In a rare newspaper interview in 2001 he said: ‘We need Catholics who are willing to be trained as marriage counsellors. We need parents to get involved in parenting courses, and we also need to support single parents and those who are divorced and separated.’

One of the high points of his time in office was the visit of Pope John Paul II to St George’s Cathedral in 1982 to celebrate a Mass for the sick. It was Archbishop Michael who suggested that the seven sacraments be the theme of the pope’s six-day visit to Britain.

The profile of St George’s Cathedral was raised considerably during his time, and he launched a £5 million appeal for its refurbishment. It staged concerts, took part in the Southwark Literary Festival and hosted the annual graduation ceremony for the students of South Bank University.

Archbishop Michael held a number of key posts at the Bishops’ Conference. He was chairman of the department dealing with Christian life and worship from 1983 to 1999 and the committee for family life from 1983 to 1986.

For 26 years he served both as a governor of Digby Stuart College, Roehampton, and Chair of Southwark Province’s Bishops’ Committee for St John’s Seminary, Wonersh. He served for 15 years on the Bishops’ Committee for the Venerable and Beda Colleges in Rome and 11 years as a director of Catholic National Mutual Ltd.

It was characteristic of him to always go out of his way to thank people after confirmations and parish visitations. In 1999 when a man with a sword ran amok at the 10 a.m. Sunday Mass at St Andrew’s, Thornton Heath, injuring 11 people, he drove to the parish the following weekend to offer support.

Throughout his life he enjoyed golf, tennis and cricket. He once played against the Duke of Norfolk XI at Arundel and — the story goes — got out legendary England batsman Colin Cowdrey.

He will be remembered both as a gentleman and a gentle man.

Archbishop Michael died in the early hours of Thursday 17 October 2019 at St Peter’s Home, Vauxhall.

May he rest in peace.

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