By Joanna Puddister King
JACKSON – From an early age, Andrew Bowden had a heart for service. On May 15, he continued that call as he was ordained a transitional deacon at his home parish of St. Jude in Pearl. He will serve as a deacon until ordination to the priesthood next year.
“The first time that I remember him saying anything about wanting to be a priest, he was about kindergarten age,” said his mother, Rhonda Bowden, who coordinates liturgy and pastoral care at St. Jude.
Deacon Bowden recalled attending a Mass around that age, celebrated by Bishop William Houck, that sparked his interest in religious life.
“He had an incredibly powerful voice, and I was impressed by him. So impressed that the next time I saw my pastor, Father [Martin] Ruane, I announced to him that I wanted to be a bishop,” laughed Deacon Bowden.
Father Ruane, who passed in 2015, was a great influence on young Bowden. His sense of humor, humble nature and his joy were attributes that Bowden wanted to emulate. “I don’t remember exactly how he responded to the four-year-old declaring that he wanted to be bishop, but he was able to replace that idea … with the desire to become a priest,” said Deacon Bowden.
Around the same time, Bowden also started talking about wanting to be an altar server. Although Father Ruane’s policy was that alter servers must be in the fourth grade, he graciously did an abbreviated training session just for Bowden in the third grade, shortly before he left St. Jude for a new assignment.
“Altar serving then became a major part of my pre-discernment,” explained Deacon Bowden. “Through altar serving at St. Jude as I grew up, I began to love God, the church and the priesthood in a much deeper way.”
Bowden was also actively engaged in St. Jude’s youth group and enjoyed sharing his faith and teaching the younger altar servers.
His mother, Rhonda couldn’t recall any other possible vocation or career path her son ever mentioned, other than around four years old saying that he wanted to be an architect priest who would build churches and work in the church, imagining as only a child can, to also build underground tunnels to his house so that he could eat lunch with her every day.
By the end of high school, Deacon Bowden strongly felt he was being called to the priesthood. Father Jeffrey Waldrep, who was pastor at St. Jude in Bowden’s high school years inspired his interest in liturgy and was helpful to him as he entered the formal discernment process for priestly formation.
His parents were extremely supportive of his desire and after graduating from Brandon High School in the spring of 2014 he completed his application for the seminary just as Bishop Joseph Kopacz arrived in the diocese.
“We strongly encouraged Andrew to have a ‘backup-plan’ in case the new bishop was not eager to send an 18-year-old to seminary college. [But], he was adamant that God’s will would prevail, and that God would make a way for him. And God did,” said Bowden’s mother.
Bowden spent four years at St. Joseph Seminary College in Covington, Louisiana and moved on to Notre Dame Seminary, where he just completed his third year before being ordained a transitional deacon on May 15.
“During the diaconate internship we try to place our men in parishes that will give them a wide range of experiences,” said Father Nick Adam, director of vocations, who first met Bowden in high school, while he was in seminary school.
“This will be the first time a seminarian baptizes a baby, witnesses a wedding or presides at a funeral, and we want to make sure they have plenty of opportunities to dive into parish life and walk with families in this way.”
Those in the transitional diaconate are also tried to be place at a parish with a school so they can be a part of the day-to-day life of the kids and faculty. A great place for that is at St. Mary Basilica and Cathedral School in Natchez, and Bowden is looking forward to his service to the community.
“During seminary, I have greatly missed the local expression of the church that is the Diocese of Jackson. I am greatly looking forward to spending the next few months in Natchez with Father [Scott] Thomas and Father [Mark] Shoffner. … It will be so good to get to know people there and learn how I can serve them best,” said Deacon Bowden.
During his diaconate ordination, Bowden’s mother cried ‘happy tears.’ “Seeing my son so happy and knowing that he was responding to God’s call made my heart sing with joy.”