A high calling: Michael Bower becomes the first ordained priest from St. Alphonsus
By Desiree Williams
Some people know from a young age what career they will pursue, but Michael Bower didn’t see the priesthood in his future.
“I never thought about being a priest growing up,” Bower said. “I didn’t really know very many priests, personally, and I wasn’t all that inspired by their example.”
Born in Maryland, Bower moved to Zionsville in 2000 with his father and brother to be closer to his father’s family. Bower, 27, joined St. Alphonsus Liguori Catholic church in 2004. Little did her know, this would be one of his first steps toward becoming the first ordained priest from St. Alphonsus.
Bower became an ordained Catholic priest June 3 at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Lafayette along with three other men. They took a vow of celibacy, a vow of simplicity and a vow of obedience to Bishop Timothy Doherty, who guides the Catholic Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana. Bower said his first Mass of Thanksgiving June 4 at St. Alphonsus.
“There’s an awful lot of people in this parish that he knows, or more that know him, who have been praying for him and are anxious to be a part of his ordination,” said Fr. Dennis O’Keefe, pastor at St. Alphonsus. “They want to be able to rejoice with him.”
A new mindset
Two new priests joined St. Alphonsus while Bower was in his senior year of high school and altered his perception of the priesthood. He said they were younger and more charismatic than ones he’d seen before.
“For the first time in my life I met a couple of priests who were convicted of what they believe in and were able to convince people of the truth of faith, of God’s existence and life’s big questions,” Bower said. “It was really inspiring to me.”
Bower said he felt a call from God and entered the seminary after graduating from high school eight years ago. Seminary is an educational institution for those wishing to go through ordination to become clergy.
He said it’s a long process, because the Catholic Church wants faith and reason to work together rather than contradict, so each student must study philosophy and theology to complete seminary.
Bower studied in Ohio, Minnesota, Rome and Indiana during those eight years. He completed his four-year college degree in philosophy and theology. Bower said seminary was the most blessed and joyful time of his life.
“We weren’t talking about who got drunk last night or what’s going on in the media or the sports world,” Bower said. “We’re talking about philosophy, history and theology, things that so many people don’t ever have the chance to be educated in or to talk about. So it made for some really strong fraternity and friendship that will last my whole life.”
Seminarians also attend formation meetings monthly to ensure they stay on track to become a better man and priest.
“To have that sort of accountability for all these years I think has really forced me to look at things in my life and take care of issues from the past and be a stronger man for the future,” Bower said.
Words of wisdom
During seminary, Bower sought out O’Keefe for advice and mentorship. O’Keefe has known Bower since becoming pastor in 2006.
O’Keefe said being a good listener is the most important piece of advice he could pass on.
“We’re in a culture that people do not feel listened to. People do not feel heard. Making someone feel as though they have been heard when they give expression to pain or opinion, either one, it helps to keep a conversation and then move in a direction that’s productive,” O’Keefe said.
At the end of this month, Bower will receive his first parish assignment, where he will serve as an associate pastor for two to three years. He will get one other assignment before becoming a pastor at a parish.
“All through seminary, my desire to be a priest has only grown more and more every year, and (I’m) just excited to get started,” he said.
Meet Michael Bower
Hobbies: Playing the guitar and hiking
Favorite local restaurant: Flap Jacks
Favorite vacation spot: Cabin in West Virginia
Car he drives: 2005 Honda Civic
Favorite passage of scripture: 1 Corinthians 9:25, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (NIV)
Favorite piece of advice: “To not live for yourself, but to live for others.”