In his radio program, “Christ is the Answer,” Fr. John Riccardo once spoke of how “big of a tent” the Catholic Church is. How it has ministries and orders, clergy and laity, that can accommodate any personal charism or interest. To paraphrase him: if you want to be out in the world teaching or serving you can do that, if you don’t want to leave your house you can do that too; never want to talk, we’ve got places you’re not allowed to talk, like to talk we’ve got some groups that never seem to stop talking. From a young age Brigitte Bowman has been drawn to that Charismatic Renewal and missionary work.
When I prepare for one of these interviews, I typically write a dozen or so questions and topics that I think would be helpful to explore and use those to help guide the conversation. With Brigitte I simply mentioned her time at Our Lady’s parochial school and then just sat back and enjoyed the ride, so to speak, for the next forty-five minutes as my hand began to cramp from furiously taking notes. She is so filled with charisma and passion for our shared faith that it pours out of her in an unending tide of joy. I left the interview somewhat exhausted and somewhat in awe of this young woman’s close and personal relationship with God. A personal relationship she wants to share with everyone she meets.
Brigitte’s path to developing that personal relationship began when she was trained as an altar server at OLPH. Serving in this role allowed her to become close to the Mass and she began to know, on an intuitive level, the Eucharist truly was the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. At that young age she was unable to fully articulate these feelings but looking back now she can see that seeds were being laid in her faith and it was a transformational moment.
After completing eighth grade at Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s school Brigitte continued to Bishop Ready High School. In her junior year she began to have a yearning that there was “something more” yet was afraid to step into the fullness of what God was offering her. Despite that Brigitte began to pray in the chapel most days before classes and took strength from her fellow OLPH alumnae at Bishop Ready who were undergoing their own faith journeys.
Her second transformation moment came during an Encounter Ministries retreat at Christ the King parish in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (I suppose despite the taint of the University of Xichigan a few good things can happen in Ann Arbor!) Encounter Ministries is a charismatic outreach organization and when Brigitte walked into the church, the retreat was in the midst of praise and worship. Her first confused thought was, “Did I stumble onto a protestant congregation?” She soon realized these were, in fact, fellow Catholics and was encouraged to hold out and open her hands in a physical gesture representing her opening her heart to God.
What resulted was Brigitte encountering the Holy Spirit in a deeply personal and intimate manner. Suddenly she realized, “all of this is real” and felt overwhelming peace and love. Brigitte soon resolved to open herself to whatever the Lord wanted for her. After graduating Bishop Ready Brigitte knew she wanted something more for her faith than university but was unsure what her next steps would be. As I have heard from so many other people during the course of these interviews, the Holy Spirit worked through a family member when her mother suggested she apply to Damascus Catholic Mission Campus in Centerburg, Ohio.
Brigitte knew nothing about Damascus and submitted her application on the last possible day. She was accepted and is now working her third consecutive summer and her second year as a full-time missionary. Her first summer Brigitte had no idea what to expect and was assigned to the “Programs” field where she oversaw high adventure activities such as ropes courses. During the summer, Damascus provides a full summer camp experience to children and this year is expected to have 500 of them participating weekly for a total of more than 4,500 over the course of the season.
As she describes Damascus Brigitte becomes even more passionate and explains, “there are literally miracles happening in front of my eyes.” She relates one anecdote of kids from an inner-city parish and largely disadvantaged backgrounds who attended a retreat. “They didn’t want to be there, but then we started
Brgitte Bowman | Transformation, Continued
having fun.” Brigitte compared it to the OLPH Life Teen program and slowly the kids began to learn that “the Catholic Church isn’t boring, it’s an adventure.”
The experience was so transformative that one high school kid, an avowed atheist, was brought to tears at the end of the retreat as he proclaimed how powerful the retreat was for him in developing a newfound relationship with God.
I am reminded of Fr. Larry Richards who once recalled exploding at one of his high school students that being Catholic is not meek and easy, but one of the hardest and most adventurous things anyone can undertake.
Having undergone her own transformation Brigitte was now instrumental in transforming other lives. As a full-time missionary at Damascus, she also participates in organizing street ministries in communities surrounding the campus. These are missionaries who approach average people on the street in a nonconfrontational manner to present the Gospel. This is much in the same manner as the St. Paul Street Evangelization ministry. While summer at Damascus is devoted to youth camps, as a full-time missionary, Brigitte also facilitates other retreats during the off-season.
Brigitte explains that she has witnessed so many transformations at Damascus, not because of the missionaries, but because God is present at Damascus. “We open the door and invite Him.”
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev 3:20)
For one of the first times during our interview Brigitte pauses and then adds, “God wants to bring OLPH into a deeper relationship with His love and power. We just need to open the door.”
Following her tenure at Damascus Brigitte intends to maintain being “a missionary for life.” She is feeling called to missionary work in other countries and has made it her goal “to renew the Catholic Church.” Her one wish is that everyone could encounter the love of God in a deep and personal way. For all of us to be transformed as she continues to undergo her own transformation.
When I ask Brigitte her hobbies and what she does for fun she is momentarily confused. At Damascus the missionaries live in households and her precious few free hours are devoted to building community within her household and prayer. Brigitte also adds, “[this life] it’s a commitment.”
As we conclude she asks me if she could do something for me. Now I am confused and answer in the affirmative to which she responds, “Can I please pray for you?” Hours later I am still humbled by this.
I meet somewhat regularly with parochial and school staff, and very rarely have we ever begun a meeting in prayer and never have I been asked, nor have I personally asked anyone, if we could pray for one another. Contemplating this reaffirms to me that Brigitte’s goal of transformation is already working.
By Eric Brooks