BAR HARBOR — Father James M. Gower, born Aug, 17, 1922, in Noank, Conn., to Earl P. Gower and Mary A. Byron Gower, died Dec. 17, 2012, after a long struggle with declining health and memory loss.
Father Gower attended St. Edward’s Catholic Elementary School; subsequently he graduated from Bar Harbor High School, where he was involved in many activities and organizations including: student council president, class president, Circle Francais president, member of National Honor Society, chorus, dramatics group; Outdoor Club, and four years of varsity baseball and football. Additionally Jim was an avid dancer, hiker and an excellent downhill and cross-country skier. During his high school years Jim worked at many jobs such as carpentry and house painting in order to fulfill his desire to obtain a college education. Following graduation, he worked in New York City, first for Lord and Lady Anson, owner of “The Turrets,” and for Horn and Hardart Automat. At the end of that year his savings from four years during high school and one year in New York were enough to pay for one semester at the University of Notre Dame. Upon entering the University of Notre Dame, Jim was able to secure one job to pay for tuition and another job to cover his board and room. At that time Notre Dame had a 10 p.m. lights out regulation and this, with his job responsibilities, meant that most of his studies had to be done under the night lights of the dormitory in the hallway. Despite these obstacles he graduated with honors.
Toward the end of his college career he participated in the V-12 program and became an ensign in the U.S. Navy. Jim was then sent to deep sea diving school in New York City. Upon completion of his training Jim was assigned to a Salvage and Rescue Unit. His 210-foot tugboat was responsible for rescue of the merchant ships and naval vessels that had been torpedoed or bombed and to tow them to a safe port for repair. His experience also exposed him to the poverty, destruction and human suffering wrought by the war. This stimulated a strong desire in him to, in some way, help the many needy families in Italy, where he was last posted. After discharge from the Navy he sent hundreds of care packages to these individuals and families.
Following his military service he attended law school at Georgetown University. However, after a year he decided law was not the profession to which he wished to devote his life. Still searching for his true vocation and increasingly drawn toward service to people, Jim decided to enroll in a program for delayed vocations to the priesthood at St. Philip Nere College in Boston. Following a year of concentrated study of Latin and Greek he entered St. Augustine Seminary in Ontario, Canada, to become a Roman Catholic priest. After his ordination in 1953, he was assigned to the Chancery Office of the Bishop of Maine. Upon completion of his Chancery Office tenure Jim began his long career as a parish priest with assignments at Waterville, Northeast Harbor, University of Maine (chaplain), Bar Harbor (Holy Redeemer, St. Peters, St. Ignatius, St. Mary, plus the chapel on Islesford) and St. Vincent Parish in Bucksport, from which he retired.
During his career Jim immersed himself in his religious activities and believed his function was to help all people in need regardless of their persuasion. Jim was a strong believer in the ecumenical movement and actively sought out clergy of other faiths to help solve problems in the interest of the practical needs of people of all faiths. As his years of service advanced, Jim saw the gradual decline of many parishes and the closing of many churches because of the shortage of priests. Recognizing that one of the main causes of this decline was the issue of mandatory celibacy, Jim became active in promoting optional celibacy for priests in an attempt to encourage more excellently qualified candidates to choose a vocation that also permitted family life. Concurrently Jim felt that the church should be a leader in the peace movement and its efforts to eliminate the need for war.
Therefore, Jim became involved in “Pax Christi,” the International Catholic Movement for Peace devoted to the pursuit of peaceful means of problem solving in society. He spent a year visiting hundreds of parishes across the United States lecturing for the organization promoting world peace. Because he had no salary he depended on the generosity of each parish he visited.
The welfare of the community was a cause which was paramount in his mind. Having grown up in Bar Harbor and experiencing the effects of long winters with limited employment and short summers of feverish activity to provide sustenance for a family, Jim looked for ways to alleviate this problem. Education was one answer to steady employment. Jim worked with many others to found the College of the Atlantic, which could provide educational opportunity and also contribute to the overall economic health of the community. Today the College of the Atlantic is an outstanding educational institution and its alumni are making positive contributions locally and around the world.
Senior housing on Mount Desert Island was a need which existed for many years as a problem with few solutions. When the federal government programs were initiated to help communities develop housing, few provisions applied to small towns because of minimum size restrictions. Local efforts were having difficulty qualifying because they had too few people. Father Gower went to Washington and made a case for the fact that the need was real and that small towns should be allowed to combine their populations in order to qualify. This made sense to officials and applications were approved.
Over the years Father Gower continued his promotion and involvement in many other projects of community concern including active participation in such organizations as “Island Connections,” “The Maine Community Foundation” and “People for Educational Advancement and Community.”
Father Gower was predeceased by his parents; as well as two sisters, Eileen McMorrow and Kathleen Peverini. He is survived by two brothers, Charles Gower and John Gower, as well as many nieces and nephews. Remembrances may be made to Holy Redeemer Church, College of the Atlantic or a charity of your choice. Arrangements by Jordan-Fernald, 1139 Main St., Mount Desert. Condolences may be expressed at www.jordanfernald.com.