Joseph Oliver Bowers was born in Dominica, West Indies, on March 28, 1910. He is the son of Sheriff Montague Bowers and his wife Mary Bowers. His father is best remembered as headteacher of the Massacre Government Primary School, and organist at the St. Ann's Parish Church. After completing his secondary education at the Dominica Grammar School, young Joseph Bowers went to the United States to study for the priesthood, joining the Society of the Divine Word (SVD), a Catholic missionary congregation. He was ordained a priest in January1939, and was posted to Ghana, then known as the Gold Coast. There he served as a missionary until his appointment as the first black Bishop of Accra in January 1953.

Bishop Bowers always had great empathy for the well-being of his flock; and though a very pious man, he was a visionary and dynamic leader. In 1957, he founded the congregation of the Sisters of the Handmaids of the Divine Redeemer (HDR) in Accra, dedicated to succor and comfort the poor. During his tenure, he increased the number of Catholic priests and religious laity in the Diocese of Accra substantially, and also the number of parishes; and the Catholic population almost tripled. In recognition of his vibrant leadership and pioneering work in Ghana, when the diocese of St. John's-Basseterre in the West Indies was created in 1971 -- comprising the islands of Antigua-Barbuda, St. Kitts-Nevis, Montserrat, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands -- Bishop Bowers was appointed its first bishop, becoming the chief pastor in Antigua, the land of his father's birth.

In 1981, Bishop Bowers retired from church office in Antigua and returned to Dominica. There he lived humbly in the little town of Mahaut in the care of his sister, Blossom Ann Reid. The Bishop, through his thoughtfullness, kindness and a fine sense of humor, endears himself to his people, and is loved by all. His HDR Sisters, some of whom visited him in Dominica from time to time, wanted him back in Ghana so they could care for their patron in his final days. As a result, Bishop Bowers returned to Ghana and currently lives in Agomanya, cared for by the HDR Sisters.

Bishop Bowers was a caring and dynamic leader of the Catholic Church in Ghana and the West Indies; and he leaves a legacy in the continuing charitable work of the Handmaids of the Divine Redeemer, the congregation he founded.

For his leadership and his legacy, his selflessness and his piety, DAAS honors Bishop Joseph Oliver Bowers

Contributed by
Wendell Lawrence
July 2007

See also:
Catholic Hierarchy
St. Augustine's Firsts

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