Bishop Sowada brought joy of Gospel to people of Agats, to all of us

Categories: Around the Diocese

Crosier Bishop Alphonse Sowada, 80, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Agats, Indonesia, died Jan.11 at the Mille Lacs Health System, Onamia.

“Bishop Sowada was, in my estimation,” Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of St. Cloud John Kinney said, “what Pope Francis has written about in his apostolic exhortation ‘The Joy of the Gospel.’ He brought the joy of the Gospel of Christ to the people of the Diocese of Agats and to all of us.”

Bishop Kinney first met him while he was serving as auxiliary bishop in St. Paul, when Bishop Sowada visited there.

bishopsowadaBishop Sowada was born June 23, 1933, in Avon, to Alphonse and Monica (Pierskalla) Sowada. He attended Crosier Seminary High School in Onamia and received his seminary formation at the Crosier House of Studies in Fort Wayne, Ind. He made his profession of vows in the Canons Regular of the Order of the Holy Cross Aug. 28, 1953, and was ordained to the priesthood at Fort Wayne May 31, 1958, by the Bishop Leo Pursley of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Following his ordination, he received a master’s degree in cultural anthropology from the Catholic University of America in 1961.

In May of that year he departed to the Asmat Mission in Indonesia, where he served as pastor of the parish in Sawa-Erma from 1962-1965 and pastor in Agats from 1965-1969. He was the regional superior for the Crosiers in Agats when he was appointed the first Bishop of Agats, Indonesia, May 29, 1969. He was consecrated Bishop of Agats Nov. 23, 1969, by the Bishop Joseph Mees, apostolic pro-nuncio to Indonesia. Bishop Sowada retired in 2001.

“He was a great man, a great Crosier and missionary priest and bishop,” Bishop John Kinney recalled. “I had the privilege of visiting him in Agats back in 1999 or 2000 and spent a couple of weeks with him.

“I saw the tremendous pastoral work that he was doing with the Asmat people — and their love for him. He had a great love for them, for all of the priests and people of the Diocese of Agats. It was a privilege for me to be with him during that time.”

During his years ministering to the Asmat people of Agats, Bishop Sowada wrote books on Asmat art and culture. His collections of artifacts are the core of the American Museum of Asmat Art at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. He celebrated his 50th jubilee as a Crosier Aug. 3, 2008.

The reception of the body of Bishop Sowada will be at 3 p.m. Jan. 16, at St. Mary’s Cathedral, St. Cloud. A wake will begin at this time and continue until 8 p.m. There will be a vigil service at 7 p.m., with Crosier Prior Father Kermit Holl, presiding. The wake will continue Jan. 17, at 9 a.m. until the time of the funeral Mass.

The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Jan.17 at St. Mary’s Cathedral, with Bishop of the Diocese of St. Cloud Donald Kettler presiding. The homilist will be Bishop Emeritus Kinney. There will be a private burial at the Crosier Priory Cemetery, Onamia.

Bishop Sowada is survived by his brothers and sisters: Adrian (Joann) Sowada, Little Falls; Marlene (John) Mulrooney, Winona; Ramona Sowada, Addison, Ill.; Rose Ann (David) Munsch, Poway, Calif.: Lenore (Michael) Leigh, Green Valley, Ariz.; Dennis (Janice) Sowada, Rice; and Terese (Richard) Athman, Hamilton, Mont.; and several nephews and nieces. He was preceded in death by his parents.

“After Bishop Sowada’s retirement,” Bishop Kinney said, “our joy was having him return here to the Diocese of St. Cloud, to be in retirement here but also to assist me. He worked very hard helping with some of the confirmations — his being here was a joy for me.

“He was a dear friend. I will miss him greatly.”