In Memoriam: Fr. Phil Bowers
[Editor's Note: Father Phil's Funeral Mass was held Thursday, December 23, 2021, at Holy Spirit Parish at Geist. A recording of his Funeral Mass can be viewed here.]
It is with great sorrow that Theta Chi Fraternity announces Past International Chaplain Father Philip T. Bowers (Alpha Delta/Purdue 1975) has joined the Chapter Eternal. He was 84.
For 46 years, Father Phil Bowers was a dedicated volunteer for Theta Chi Fraternity on the local and International level.
Phil Bowers grew up in Philadelphia and attended St. Anthony of Padua grade school and Northeast Catholic High School. In 1953 he entered Maryknoll and was ordained on June 13, 1964. Following his ordination, he was dispatched to a Maryknoll mission in a remote area of the Philippines including Conception Baganga Parish.
In the early 1970s, Father Phil left the Philippines after being assigned as the priest at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church and as Pastor for Purdue University’s Newman Center. Initially he had been sent to stay for four weekends to assist while two of the four priests were completing their graduate degrees. He stayed for 21 years.
It was in these early days as a priest at Purdue that Father Phil was recruited and began his service to Theta Chi as a Chapter Adviser for Alpha Delta Chapter at Purdue. As a tribute to his dedication to the Fraternity, he was initiated into Theta Chi by the collegiate members at Purdue as an alumnus initiate in 1975.
Following his initiation, Father Phil began attending regional conferences and International Conventions with Alpha Delta Chapter and was exposed to the greater Theta Chi Fraternity. He became known as a jovial voice of reason and often led nondenominational religious services for brothers when Fraternity events fell on a Sunday.
In 1988 at the 132nd Anniversary Convention, Father Phil was elected to the Grand Chapter and appointed International Chaplain. He served in that role for four years and was reelected to the Grand Chapter in 1992 at the 136th Anniversary Convention. Jokingly complaining about being typecast, he continued as International Chaplain until 1993 when he resigned from the Grand Chapter when he left Purdue University to focus on his new assignment as head pastor to help grow and develop a new church (Holy Spirit Parish at Geist) in Fishers, IN.
Though stepping off the Grand Chapter, he continued to serve the Fraternity in various roles: as a board member of Theta Chi Funds for Leadership and Education; as a member of various Grand Chapter committees, including the Ritual Committee which worked on various updates and revisions to our ceremonies; a Ritual trainer and adviser for the Fraternity’s Field Staff; and as a reliable and effective speaker and presenter at various Theta Chi leadership events.
Whether a regional conference, School of Fraternity Practices session, or an Initiative Academy, Father Phil always inspired and motivated the brothers in attendance. His final presentation at the International level occurred in 2020 at the Chaplains Conference where he was able to speak to more than 150 Chapter Chaplains about the ideals of Theta Chi and the importance of integrity, leadership, and brotherhood.
While serving the International Fraternity following his departure from Purdue, Father Phil remained a loyal Alpha Delta alumnus and returned to speak during key rush events to help explain the importance of Theta Chi and connect with new recruits. He met with pledges over the years and was a key contact for each Chapter President when he assumed office. In addition, he would always be a presence at alumni functions and festivities and was always a guiding force in the lives of Alpha Delta brothers. Countless brothers were married by Father Phil, had their children dedicated by Father Phil, and were consoled by Father Phil during times of loss. While a Father, he was truly a brother, in every sense of the word.
Over the years, Father Phil was recognized by the Fraternity with several awards including has received the George T. Kilavos Alumni Award, the Earl D. Rhodes Theta Chi For Life Award, and the Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor for a member of Theta Chi Fraternity.
He was an Honorary Member of Delta Pi/Indiana State and Alpha Iota/Indiana, where he had assisted in the initiation of their new chapter adviser in 1984.
His legacy remained at Purdue, where some say Father Phil was as iconic as Purdue Pete, the smokestacks, or the Big Bass Drum. Earning a master’s degree in 1986, Father Phil remained heavily involved in all aspects of campus and student life. Purdue’s Interfraternity Council established the Father Phil Bowers Outstanding Adviser Award and the Boiler Business Exchange and Krannert School of Management Hall of Fame established the Father Phil Bowers Award to recognize the heart and dedication of someone, primarily working for a not-for-profit organization, who is working to improve the quality of life in Indiana. Father Phil was the inaugural recipient in 2016.
Following his retirement from Holy Spirit at Geist (and 50 years in the priesthood) in 2015, Father Phil continued to serve in substitute roles in area congregations assisting parishioners with sacramental needs and continued to officiate weddings of Purdue alumni, including Alpha Delta brothers.
In 2020/2021, Father Phil was diagnosed with cancer and underwent treatment. Notes, calls, and visits from brothers made him very happy and raised his spirits.
Though very saddened by this loss, we are very glad one of Father Phil’s final Theta Chi appearances was in September 2021 at Alpha Delta/Purdue’s delayed centennial celebration. He was in outstanding spirits and was the same Father Phil we all knew and loved.
One of Father Phil’s favorite Theta Chi memories was relating the impact of our lifelong brotherhood. Alpha Delta’s H.O.D. Boone (1923) had been part of Theta Chi’s earliest days at Purdue and had remained an actively involved alumnus, serving on the alumni corporation and in other areas, supporting and guiding the collegiate brothers.
When H.O.D. was nearing the end of his life, Father Phil went to visit and shared this memory:
“H.O.D. was a super brother, he came to everything. He was terrific. Everybody knew and loved him. He was 93 years old in the hospital and he’s dying. We had created a memorial in his name that we were going to tell him about it. So I went in and sat down and I was telling him about it and he was just laying there. The painful thing for me was that he was laying there in a diaper. This man of great distinction, this man with great love for the Fraternity was in the fetal position in a diaper. I was in pain seeing this. I was there with the head of our alumni board, Rick Conner (1976), and I said we may as well go because H.O.D. hadn’t even moved as we spoke to him. So I went over and grabbed H.O.D.’s hand and he gave me the grip. I cannot tell you what that meant. I pulled up the chair and spent another hour, telling him all kinds of stories, because I knew he was there. He couldn’t communicate back again, but I knew that all that brotherhood, all those years, was alive and well in 1993 when he was about to take his last breath. That kind of commitment came from understanding the ideals and traditions of the Fraternity.”
He often remarked what an honor it was to earn trust and be invited to be involved into peoples’ lives and share in their joy and sorrow.
We were the ones who were honored by Father Phil. To earn his trust at Alpha Delta and later at the International level – to have him share in our organization’s triumphs and tragedies (he officiated the funeral following the tragic loss of Executive Vice President Dale Slivinske in 1989) – we were blessed by him for more than four decades and he will be sorely missed.
Father Phil was always known to assign ‘homework.’ Therefore, in his memory, we assign the following homework to all brothers in light of a final message he relayed saying, “Relationships are very difficult to keep going because people don’t know how to talk to each other.”
Let’s work on our communication. Let’s be true brothers and love each other – Be there for each other. Reach out to a brother who needs a Helping Hand. Be a listening ear and a compassionate friend. It may mean more than you’ll ever know.
We have lost our Father, and today we mourn.
But we will never forget the lessons and his brotherhood.
They shall remain with us forever.
Father Phil spent a lifetime giving hope to others and we shall do the same in our fraternity of the Helping Hand.
Father Phil’s visitation was held at Holy Spirit Parish at Geist on Wednesday, December 22, 2021, from 4-7 p.m.
His Funeral Mass was also held at Holy Spirit Parish at Geist the next day, Thursday, December 23 at 11 a.m.
The Funeral Mass was live-streamed - CLICK HERE - to view the recording.
Address for Holy Spirit Parish at Geist:
Theta Chi plans to memorialize Father Phil in an appropriate manner at the right time.
Please keep Father Phil’s brothers, friends, and parishioners - past and present - in your prayers.
We would like to collect your Father Phil memories, tributes, and stories. Please share them with us at email@example.com.
Click here to read a statement made by Purdue University President Mitch Daniels.
Click here to read a tribute from St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center at Purdue University.
Click here to listen to recent homilies delivered by Father Phil.
Click here to watch the video by Boiler Business Exchange announcing the Father Phil Bowers Award.
Click here to read a feature story on Father Phil from the July 2014 edition of the Geist Community Newsletter.
Click here to read story from The Purdue Exponent about Father Phil's passing.
Mentioned in the beginning of the article, this 1964 snippet details Fr. Phil's first-ever solemn Mass.
In memory of Father Phil, below we reprint this Summer 2020 article that appeared in The Rattle, written by Jim Russell, a 1975 graduate of Purdue (where he was initiated into Delta Tau Delta), and a former sports writer and editor in Indianapolis who went on to serve as executive director of Delta Tau Delta from 20001-2018.
He was president of the Fraternity Executives Association in 2016-2017. Russell notes his seminal fraternal role model was an older cousin, James J. Abel (1969), who served two terms as President of Alpha Delta Chapter.
A routine trip to the hospital more than 45 years ago changed the course of Phil Bowers’ life.
That visit to see a convalescing Purdue football player Skip Peterson (Alpha Delta/Purdue 1978) led to hundreds of fraternal associations at Purdue and far beyond. To this day, it has enriched his life beyond measure. The circle of influence built on those relationships is profound.
Quite simply, it’s the simple and ancient tale of why being of service to others enriches the giver at least as much as the receiver.
In 1972, Father Phil Bowers, a Catholic priest of the Maryknoll religious order fresh from a posting in a remote area of the Philippines, was dispatched by his superior to serve in campus ministry at Purdue University. Upon arrival on the staff at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, he was assigned to a number of campus constituencies by the long-time pastor, Leo Piguet. Among those were the Purdue University Student Health Center (PUSH) and duties as chaplain of the Purdue football team.
Those assignments intersected early on their journey when Bowers popped into PUSH while making rounds room by room. Among the patients he visited that day was a Purdue football player recovering from an injury.
That short conversation led to a dinner invitation to Theta Chi for the following Wednesday night. Bowers, then and now is a genial sort with a special gift for storytelling. It speaks loudly to his Irish ancestry. He was so popular at that first meal at 800 David Ross Road he was soon invited back. More than once.
Within weeks, the hook had been set. Deep. The chapter needed a new chapter advisor to succeed Jack Fenwick, an agronomy professor who was leaving Purdue.
The men asked Phil Bowers.
“What would I need to do?” asked Bowers, a native of Philadelphia who did not have an undergraduate fraternity experience. “I had absolutely no clue what the responsibilities were. They said, ‘oh, you just need to come to dinner on Wednesday nights.’ That sounded easy enough so I agreed.”
If the men set a good hook, he was open to accepting it. His on the job training as a volunteer fraternity advisor played well with his pastoral bent. Yet he makes it clear that from the outset he gained more than he gave from those young men.
Bowers also realized there was a little more to it than just appearing at dinner and going to the chapter meetings. His eyes twinkle when he reminisces about those Wednesday night dinners in the first few months as an advisor. It takes time to build relationships and they did.
“While I was able to make most chapter meetings, I made it a point to stay quiet until giving my report at the end. My real work was outside the meetings. That’s when you lay the seed.”
Within a year, a bid for membership was extended. Bowers accepted. Nearing age 40, he was a new brother of Theta Chi Fraternity and its Alpha Delta Chapter. His willingness to say yes rather naively led to a relationship with Theta Chi that continues into his 80s.
In addition to Purdue duties for Theta Chi, he served four years on the fraternity’s national board and remains an abiding influence at Theta Chi gatherings. The fraternity has honored him with its two highest honors, the Theta Chi For Life Award and the Distinguished Service Award.
His formal service to the Alpha Delta Chapter reached 21 years before a new challenge arrived. His departure from the chapter and active ministry at Purdue came when he took a new assignment in 1993 at the three-year-old Holy Spirit Parish near Geist Reservoir in the Indianapolis suburb of Fishers with its exploding population.
While the new posting uprooted him 72 miles after two decades of total immersion in all things Boilermaker, in reality he has never left Purdue nor the thousands of students, faculty, staffers, alumni and parents he encountered well beyond his core ministerial obligations. His extended flock today includes hundreds of Theta Chis, other Greeks and former students, athletes and coaches, and Purdue colleagues beyond count.
Regardless of faith he has befriended them, counseled them in times of challenge during college days and well beyond, married them, baptized their children, buried their parents. Far beyond his professional ministry or voluntary fraternal duties, this good counselor has led a life of influence based on relationships.
“Life is all about relationships,” he said with a deep conviction over a recent Panera breakfast at 7 a.m. on a sunny Saturday not far from his former parish.
It didn’t take a keen observer that morning to underscore his life’s ethos. Before and after his meal accompanied by brisk one-on-one conversation, he was the star of the room. Moving from table to table, he was offered greetings and well wishes. He certainly was no stranger to the vast majority of those early risers of various ages.
It’s obvious he remains a “draw” several years after his official retirement. He continues to minister informally in that setting as well as serving as a fill-in priest to cover vacations and to preside at funerals of former parishioners and friends.
Now a fraternity man for 45 years and a priest for 55, he most definitely has observations about today’s world in general and young people in particular.
“So many kids today are a one or a two in the family. They haven’t had the benefit of being from a big family to learn give and take,” he reflects. He believes the opportunity afforded by living in a community setting offered by sororities, fraternities and cooperatives teaches much-needed life skills useful far beyond college years.
He also encourages alumni of those organizations to share their time, skills and wisdom in whatever way they can. “Students need guidance. To serve as an officer of a self-governed group is something they’ve never done before. Having someone to bounce ideas with or just vent is so valuable.”
Although his days as a chapter advisor and national fraternity officer are two decades in the past, he well remembers how he tried to gain insights into the men.
“Helping out in the kitchen cleaning up during lunch or after dinner was a great way to find out what was on the minds of the guys,” he recalled.
With more than 100 men often in the mix at Purdue, an advisor’s time may be restricted to interacting with the key executive officers and not enough of the rank and file. He enjoyed the easy give and take of the kitchen setting . . . and also knew the cook had plenty of helpful insights, too.
He could be a bit devious as well, particularly near the end of new member periods.
“I also liked to drive over to the house, make a few rounds and then disappear. I’d just slip out the back door and walk back to St. Tom’s. But the car was still in the lot. It made the guys a little nervous. ‘His car’s here but where’s Father Phil?’ I’d walk back the next day and pick it up. Those were great days.”
As for today’s students, he reiterates their often unstated but obvious need for adult wisdom, particularly from outside their immediate family.
“Kids today have been brought up with more emotion than intelligence,” he said. "It’s all about feelings. They need mentors.”
Don’t we all? Phil Bowers is still mentoring. It’s his gift.