SISTER JEAN MARGARET BOWLER
Sister Jean Margaret Bowler ended her very interesting autobiography, written with the assistance of Sister Christa Marsik in 2005 and 2006, in this way:
In her life story, Sister Jean Margaret told us much about her family background. Her paternal grandparents, Pat and Maggie Bowler, devoted Catholics, were from Ireland, and when they came to the New World they settled first in Canada, then moved to Michigan. They parented seven children, four of whom were lost in a typhoid epidemic. At first, the men all worked in logging camps. As adults, all three of the remaining sons were successful and became landowners of farms near Clare. Joseph was a lawyer, and William, Sister Jean Margaret’s father, was first a teacher, then a farmer. In later life, he held a job as a mail clerk, then became a contractor and road builder. Her maternal grandparents, Chester and Belle Bates, traveled from Indiana to Michigan. Chester Bates also worked in logging camps, and was considered the best at the very dangerous work of breaking up log jams.
While William Bowler was teaching in a Michigan rural school, he met Jennie Bates, who was not a Catholic until her marriage. William and Jennie married and settled on a farm in the Clare area, where their children — Ellis, Theodore, Margaret, Belva (the future Sister Jean Margaret), James (who died at an early age of pneumonia), Eddie, and Lucetta (called Dolly) — were born. Their household included an extended family, not only themselves and their children, but also the children’s paternal grandparents, their father’s two brothers, Theodore and Joseph, and their mother’s sister Ellen. Theodore owned the farm next door, but William Bowler’s family worked it as well as their own, since Theodore worked on the train as a mail clerk. Joseph had leg problems, found physical labor hard, and became a lawyer.
Belva Ellen was born on April 28, 1913. She shared the name with her cousin, Belva O’Rourke, who later became Sister Patricia Marie, and who died in 2003. Sister Jean Margaret wrote:
Sister Jean Margaret wrote about taking frequent trips into town in the cart, and visiting their Uncle Joe’s office. He would give them “treat” money that they spent at the candy store.
The Bowler youngsters at first attended Randall School, a rural school, then the family moved into Clare where the older children finished elementary and high school in the public schools. Sister Jean Margaret wrote that the church in Clare was a mission of Rosebush, and there was a small school taught by three sisters. She and Margaret made their First Communion and were confirmed there. “There is no proof because of a fire that destroyed many records.”
Ellis and Theodore were planning to become lawyers, and the family moved to Detroit so that everyone could attend school and live at home. The younger children were enrolled at St. Theresa School, and Belva also spent her high school years there. She wrote, “I was happy at St. Theresa; I enjoyed my classes and liked the sisters.” Her father supported the family well by leasing and operating a gas station, assisted by his sons and some of their friends while they attended college.
The year 1930 was an auspicious one for the family. Belva’s two brothers graduated from law school, Margaret finished secretarial college, and Belva graduated from high school. Within a month, on July 2, she was one of the ten girls from St. Theresa who entered the postulate at Adrian. The family moved back to Clare; and, in response to requests from golfers, her father turned the farm that had previously belonged to his brother Joseph into a golf course.
Belva, in her postulant garb, began the 1930-31 school year as a third-grade teacher at St. Patrick School in St. Charles, Illinois, and returned to Adrian at Easter for Reception on April 7, 1931. Dressed in the habit and known as Sister Jean Margaret, she returned to St. Charles to finish the year. “Imagine my class when I walked in!”
In August 1931, the required canonical novitiate year began. During her novitiate, she taught primary children at St. Joseph Academy, and shared their dormitory. “I became not only their teacher, but also their playmate, and even their substitute mother.” She and her group professed their first vows on August 2, 1932, and she remained in Adrian as a full-time student at St. Joseph College (now Siena Heights University) for the next school year.
Her teaching assignments kept her in Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio schools. In August 1933, she was sent to Oak Park, Illinois, to teach junior high students at St. Edmund School. The next year she was again with junior high students at Blessed Sacrament in Toledo, Ohio, where she remained for three years. She then spent four years at St. Laurence in Chicago. During the summer of 1938, she finished her college work at St. Joseph College in Adrian and received a bachelor’s degree with a major in Latin and minors in Greek and English.
In 1941, she began her high school ministry at St. Mary High School in Adrian. Her study at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor during the summers was interrupted in summer 1943 by surgery, but in September 1944, she received a master’s degree in Latin. During the 1943-44 year, her brother Eddie, who had been a Navy pilot, died. She wrote, “I was not strong enough to attend his memorial service, but Ted and Louisa came and spent time with me.”
In 1945, she moved to St. Edward High School in Elgin, Illinois, then returned to Michigan for three years at St. Paul in Owosso. Beginning with 1951, she spent eight years at Dominican High School in Detroit, during which she returned to Clare in 1956 for her father’s funeral. About her years at Dominican High, she wrote, “I was able to arrange and plan many get-togethers for the sisters in Detroit, and even now some sisters will remind me of the wonderful times they had at my parties.” During the summer of 1958 she and her mother joined another sister and her family on a trip through Europe, and she wrote of how much they enjoyed their travels. At Sister Jean Margaret’s wake, Sister Mary Willard Reagan remembered the years at Dominican High.
Sister Jean Margaret was brought back to Adrian in 1959 for two years at St. Joseph Academy. In 1961, she was assigned to Lansing for sixteen years: eight years at Resurrection High School, two years at Monsignor Gabriel High School, and six years when it became known as Lansing Catholic Central High School, where the Christian Brothers also ministered. The school became nationally known for its promotion of the JCL (Junior Classical League), a newly formed Latin organization. With the students, she attended many of its conventions, both nationally and abroad. At the wake, Sister Ann Marie Petrie shared some memories:
Sister Carleen Maly also had some memories from that time to share.
r Jean Margaret’s mother was ill, so in 1977, Sister Jean Margaret left the classroom to care for her. She and her mother moved to Venice, Florida, and in June 1982, they moved back to Clare, Michigan. The Christmas season of 1982 was a sad one for her and her siblings, as her mother died at that time.
In her autobiography, Sister Jean Margaret wrote of meeting and becoming acquainted with celebrities, although she didn’t always give the dates: Bill Robinson, in Chicago in the 1940s; Sidney Poitier, on a summer trip to Nassau with students; Ann Landers, in Lansing; Helen Hayes, while at a JLC meeting in Ann Arbor; and Goebie Gunther, the famous animal trainer, in Venice, Florida. “He truly believed, and proved, that animals could be trained by love and not by any kind of physical pain.”
In 1982, Sister Jean Margaret took on a change in ministry. She served as a parish minister at St. Mary Parish in Durand, Michigan, for twenty years. Sister Ann Marie Petrie remembered:
That the people among whom Sister Jean Margaret worked appreciated and loved her is shown by the respectful and affectionate coverage of her ministry in Lansing Catholic Central’s newspaper and in St. Mary’s parish newspaper.
In 2002, she was assailed by illness and returned to Adrian, to the Maria Building of the Dominican Life Center, where she died in June 2006. At the wake, Sister Carleen Maly said:
Sister Jean Margaret’s wake-remembrance service was held in St. Catherine Chapel on June 13. Several of her relatives were present: her sister Lucetta (Doll) Austin; her niece Jane Bowler; her nephews Michael, Fred, and Patrick Austin and their wives; several other relatives; and many of her Dominican friends. Sister Joan Sustersic, Prioress of Holy Rosary Mission Chapter, welcomed those assembled, and summarized Sister Jean Margaret’s life and ministry.
Sister Jean Margaret’s funeral liturgy was held on June 14. Father Roland Calvert, OSFS, was the presider and homilist. Father Joseph Aubin, who had ministered with her in Durand, concelebrated. Among his remarks, Father Calvert said:
Father Aubin, who had known Sister Jean Margaret in Durand, spoke of the many years that she had ministered there. He called her “a party person,” who always said, “Isn’t this the best time that you’ve ever had?”
On June 10, 2006, Sister Jean Margaret began her new life in eternity, with her God and all the loved ones who had preceded her. She was ninety-three years of age, and had celebrated her seventy-fifth year in the Congregation just a few weeks before. Her family and her Dominican friends will miss her, but would not keep her from the party that she is now celebrating.