By Chris Jaques
As a child, Margaret Bowen remembers being in the choir, cleaning the silver at church, and always being aware that “Our Lady had her hands on me, the whole time”.
At nearly 80, and “privileged to have health”, Margaret beams with the immediate energy of a young woman as she described her recently deceased husband Justin as having humility, something she feels we need to aim for in the Church.
The three years before he died, when he was coping with cancer, she says he never complained, and “life was beautiful”.
Born in 1935 in Geraldton into a Catholic family, Margaret grew up at a time when Church, school and home were interlinked, and family life revolved around all three.
An only child, she did her Commercial Junior at Northampton and commenced work for the Road Board Office, which later became the Shire.
This work took her from Geraldton to Trayning and on to Serpentine/Jarrahdale.
The annual Lent book was ticked off with activities undertaken and offered up, and she said no-one ever considered not going to Mass.
For some 20 years after meeting Justin, at 15 or 16 years of age, and marrying at 19, Mass attendance continued but other Church involvement was somewhat sidelined with having four children, running a variety of businesses, having a great social life and moving around a succession of country towns, Justin also working for local shires.
The moves were made easier because of being able to slot into the next parish, with a “flow on of your faith” from one to the next, together with an immediate recognition of the family given Justin’s position as a shire clerk and the family’s Catholic culture.
The P&F, tuck shop, coaching of sport and school activities dominated. Margaret remembered distinctly a moment in Northam when parish priest, Fr John Dwyer, stopped her in a rush one day, when she commented on her busyness, to say, “What about your spiritual health, Margaret?”
Margaret Bowen’s spiritual health shines forth like a beacon.
Her home is warm and welcoming, filled with religious symbols, and she is happy to talk about and share her faith which, she said, kept her going after her husband’s death.
Margaret has been involved over the years in organising Cenacles, regular prayer evenings, Holy Hours, 48-hour Rosary bouquets, the program in 1996 for the pilgrim statue at the Cathedral, Eucharistic Adoration and the nine-month Novena for priests. Most proud of the three-times-per-year Country Days of Reflection, she attributes the success of the 20-year program directly to the intercession of Our Lady.
Her stories are fascinating.
On one occasion at St Mary’s Cathedral, thinking the seminarians were bringing down a statue of Our Lady in procession and being told they weren’t, Margaret went looking for bearers to find a tall, well-dressed man at the entrance.
On asking him to help, he said yes and that he had been waiting for a sign to take up his vocation.
That was Father Don Kettle, who went on to succeed Fr Phelan at City Beach, Margaret and Justin’s parish.
Margaret recalls her 1987 pilgrimage to Medjugorje was a turning point.
Living in Northam at the time, and attending a weekly Life in the Spirit course she had organised in her home with assistant priest Fr Tom McDonald, Margaret heard of the apparitions and was seized with a “burning desire to go”.
Having “cut [her] teeth on Fatima”, she made a deal with a friend to look after her beauty salon for “16 sleeps” in exchange for a special request of prayers.
The six days of being “totally immersed” and in a “cocoon of not thinking of anyone” had her return to Australia changed to the point that people noticed and even queried what had she being doing.
While Margaret laughs at that notion, she also acknowledges that she had, indeed, changed and that “Our Lady knows I’m an organiser” and wants to continue to use her in that capacity.