How Our Own Fr. Daniel Bowen, O. de M. Became a Catholic
A very religious upbringing - one that was not Catholic - and with many twists and turns marked the path of one of our own Mercedarian men toward the priesthood.
Fr. Daniel Bowen, O. de M., who was raised in a Cleveland, Ohio suburb and who was the middle son of three boys, was brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness and discovered the Catholic Church through friendships and personal soul-searching. He is part of a movement of Protestant-to-Catholic conversions in the Church.
Father appeared recently on the popular EWTN show “The Journey Home,” with host Marcus Grodi.
After many experiences as a young man searching, “I knew without a shadow of a doubt that God the Father loves me,” he told Marcus of his spiritual journey. “And that he loves me as a son in his Son Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. And my whole world was changed in a deeper way. The stage had been set within the Catholic Church, but it had not really sunk down. And I hungered for Scripture like I had never before in my life.”
Fr. Daniel professed his solemn vows with the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy in 2014 and was ordained one of our priests in 2015. His background as a Jehovah’s Witness, although a flawed religion, nonetheless formed a bedrock of religious devotion that provided him with a foundation for his later search for the truth and conversion to the Catholic faith.
At times emotional, Fr. Daniel told Marcus Grodi of his belief in God under his mother’s care, his rejection of his faith as a teenager, his experiences with evangelicals, his baptism as a Catholic and then his entrance into the Mercedarian religious order. He is one of many evangelical converts who bring their gifts and "effective habits" into the Church.
Convert to Catholicism
Fr. Daniel, who is outgoing, cheery and who always seems to see God’s providence in everyday matters, traced his experience on the show with optimism and nostalgia. He recalled that his father faithfully provided for the family, working for Ford Motor Company. Although his father believed in God, he never went to church or practiced any religion. His mother, however, followed the practices of the Jehovah’s Witnesses faithfully. Founded in 1872 in Pittsburgh, PA by Charles Taze Russell, the religion holds some odd theological beliefs and is rather severe in its discipline of members.
The Witnesses believe that Jesus Christ was a perfect man, but not God. You must be a Jehovah’s Witness to gain eternal life. Only 144,000 will live and reign with Jesus. Others will receive a kind of paradise on earth, and the souls of those not saved will simply cease to exist, Father explained on the show.
Since there is no belief in the Trinity, as expressed by Christians as three persons in one God, the Witnesses are not really Christians, but are more like Arians, a sect in the early Church that did not accept Christ’s divinity.
Fr. Daniel on the Show "The Journey Home," carried by EWTN
“It’s kind of a strange place if you’ve ever been to a Kingdom Hall,” he said on the show. “There is a stage area for the minister to speak. There would be role playing so members could sharpen their skills when going door to door to attract converts.”
Growing Up in a Witness Family
And yet there were happy memories growing up. He remembers his mother easing her sons going to sleep, who had the typical childhood fears. “She would read from the Scriptures, the New World translation of the Bible. And she would stay in the chair until we had fallen asleep. Good memories of that nature.”
Growing up in a Witness family, he learned of Noah and Adam and Eve and all the figures of the Old Testament. “As a child I firmly believed in Jehovah God, as God,” he recalled.
“And from the Witness view, if there is any salvation it is only through the Jehovah’s Witness organization…. It was important to know that everyone who is a non-Witness was under the influence of the evil one, and be very cautious about my relationships with non-Witnesses.”
There was only one holiday per year, a memorial service around the time of the Jewish Passover, which is Easter for Christians. At school they could not take part in any parties, Fr. Daniel recalled. He had to leave the classroom during those times. Nor would they celebrate birthdays, and in school during the Pledge of Allegiance they would not place their hand on their hearts.
Father related that the Witnesses are considered by many as a cult, and “that in many senses it does have marks of this.” Father has insights expressed by others who have come out of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. One such person is Lou Everett, Jr., a Witness for more than 14 years. In the testimony of his journey to the Catholic faith on the website Why I’m Catholic, he relates how he questioned some of the fundamentalist beliefs of the Witnesses.
Rock Star in a Secular World
Like many teens, Father began to question his religion. Around age 12 or 13, he stopped going to Kingdom Hall. Although he felt guilty, he drifted away. He came under the influence of a completely secular culture, as for example, being introduced at the university he attended to such authors as Joseph Campbell, who saw all religions as similar mythologies and archetypes.
If he could only become a rock star he could get money and girls, he thought. But there was a great darkness in his life during his college years, he said. His mom would mail him Witness literature, but it would land in a pile, unread.
Dating a Catholic
He said that he became a Catholic because he dated a Catholic girl. “The idea was that if you wanted to be serious with me you had to go to Mass,” he explained. He began RCIA classes to learn in earnest.
Other major events occurred in his life, such as the passing of his father. As his father’s ailments increased leading to his death, he recalled his son calling him a “loser” because he was a functional alcoholic. “You were right,” his father admitted. A priest helped Fr. Daniel find his way through the grief after his father passed.
His mother died recently as a faithful Jehovah’s Witness, even, although it almost ended her life, refusing a blood transfusion, which the Witnesses do not believe in. Before she passed, she solemnly told her son, by now an ordained priest, “always remember to put God first in your life.”
Eventually, Father was received into the Church in 1994 at the Easter Vigil Mass, where he received Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist.
Although greatly happy with the experience, he fell away from the practice of his faith. Later, he found himself attending the Assemblies of God church where he experienced a firm belief in God. “My whole world changed in a deeper way,” he said.
He hungered for Scripture “like I had never before in my life.” They gave him a New Testament and he “devoured it in a year.” He recalls, “I was on fire. There was no turning back. Now I’m carrying the Bible. The Spirit was definitely alive in the Assembly and with those people.”
During his wanderings, a friend invited him to go on a Catholic retreat, Teens Encounter Christ. Although he was an adult, he went and benefited greatly. While there, he went to confession, to which he had not been for a “very long time.” When he left the confessional “the burden I could feel was lifted off.” Through anointed songs there, God spoke to him in the Eucharist, “This is where you belong” a voice seemed to say.
And yet he still had ties to the Assemblies of God. The associate pastor at the Assemblies asked him why he wasn’t attending their services. Fr. Daniel replied, “it was the Eucharist.” The pastor accepted what he was saying with simply an “OK.”
Considering the Priesthood
Fr. Daniel recalled that his discovery of going to daily Mass was amazing. People asked him if he had considered the priesthood. It was possible, he thought. And then he found this was what God wanted him to do.
When Marcus Grodi asked him how he sensed the call to the Order, he said that he felt a calling to priesthood before religious life. At a parish meeting, he met a devout Mercedarian priest. When Fr. Daniel told the priest that he was thinking about the priesthood, the priest seemed hesitant. He asked the young man, “How serious are you about being a priest? Are you ready to lay down your life for your brothers and sisters in Christ?” It was a very real challenge.
In the fall of 2006, he made application to the Order of Mercy and was accepted. He went to the Order’s Philadelphia House of Studies as a friar and priest candidate. Now he serves as the Order of Mercy’s vocation director, among other duties. He attends Catholic youth events such as SLS2020 in Phoenix.
About the ministerial priesthood, Fr. Daniel says,
“It is a great gift given by God to some, not all. It is a precious calling to be intimate with God and others in a way that no other lifestyle can match. It is a summons to love fully and without holding back. To proclaim boldly to our world that not only God exists, but He knows and loves us.”
What About You?
Men, where are you in your spiritual journey? Is God calling you to religious life? To live as a friar in the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy? Why not find out?
Contact Fr. Daniel Bowen, O. de M., at email@example.com, or Br. Dominic Whetzel, O. de M. at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more by going to the vocations page of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, or call 727-348-4060.