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Father Jeffrey Bowker’s dad was an electrician and his heavenly father is the ultimate carpenter, so it is fitting the latest head of St. Therese Catholic Church hopes to build the church and grow the faith, especially among younger parishioners.
“To use an image from St. Ignatius of Antioch, the hardest part of my role is charting a course against the winds that are preventing us from effectively evangelizing the next generation,” said Bowker. “Usually each faith community looks out at an older generation that is truly living the beauty of the faith, but every few years, there are new obstacles that come up that make it hard to pass on the faith to the next generation.
“We have to keep working on coming up with new ways to teach the perennial truths of the gospel in a way that attracts people and build up the parish community.”
The 58-year-old most recently served as a contract priest through the Diocese of Raleigh at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, but prior to the yearlong assignment in Goldsboro, he spent six years as the parochial vicar at Infant of Prague Catholic Church and a year as a hospital chaplain and vicar at St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church.
“I come from a region in Florida where I was doing a lot of retreat work, but I came to the Raleigh diocese in 2010 to be closer to my family in Richmond,” Bowker said.
Bowker grew up as one of the youngest of 10 children born to a Lebanese immigrant and a “good ol’ Southern boy.” While his parents have passed on, most of his siblings remain in the Richmond area.
“A call to the priesthood is always a mystery, but most people really want to know what it was that brought about that call in your soul,” he said. “I was an altar server beginning in the sixth grade and one of the tools that I believe God used was the fact that my mother would drop me off at 5:30 a.m. to serve a 6:30 a.m. Mass. I would be in the sacristy, near the sanctuary with a closeness to God, and the Lord taught me how to pray.”
What started with the prayers of a middle-schooler grew into a career calling. He went to seminary in Indiana before heading to Rome, where he learned Spanish. With that exposure to the Spanish-speaking faithful, Bowker said he looks forward to sharing the church’s Hispanic ministry with Father Paul Brant. He said his mission is to bring more unity between the church’s Hispanic and English-speaking parishioners.
“I would say I was pleasantly surprised that in the Anglo community here, we do have a good number of young adults and a substantial number of older adults, but the majority of our youth is coming from the Hispanic community,” he said. “For our community of faith here at St. Therese, I want more unity between the Hispanic and the Anglo parishioners. They are very good to each other, but we want them to have more experience of worship and faith formation together.”
One element Bowker said he finds essential to spreading the faith is giving parents “more tools to incorporate the faith in their homes because they are fighting against a lot more raising youth today than generations before them.” He noted that reaching younger audiences is a challenge, but one that he turns over to God.
“I trust first that the church belongs to Christ before it belongs to me and that he has a plan, and he is only going to let me see a part of that plan,” he said. “We have to remember the parable of the sower. He must sow blindly, not knowing what part of the seeds he sows will bear fruit or in what way. All he knows is that he must sow and that God has a plan to make it bear fruit.”
The Diocese of Raleigh called Bowker to the post in May with the Richmond native taking the helm on June 26 as Father Bill John Acosta-Escobar took a post with St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Wake Forest.
To learn more about St. Therese Catholic Church, visit www.sttheresewilson.com/.