PITTSBURGH – Retired Auxiliary Bishop John B. McDowell of Pittsburgh died on February 25, 2010 at Passavant Hospital, Pittsburgh. He was 88 years old and had retired in September 1996 after 30 years as a bishop.
“Bishop McDowell was a giant of the Church,” Bishop David A. Zubik said, “a national figure in Catholic education, and an influential bishop in our national conference.
“We remember him most of all as a priest, bishop, friend and advisor who loved the Church of Pittsburgh, loved his fellow priests, and lovingly served the faithful for so many years as a pastor,” Bishop Zubik said.
The retired bishop was well known in Catholic education nationwide, and was a leader in educational matters for the Catholic Bishops. He was instrumental in drafting the 1972 landmark document of the United States bishops on catechesis, “To Teach as Jesus Did.”
He served the Diocese of Pittsburgh as assistant superintendent of schools, superintendent of schools and vicar for education. In recognition of his service to Catholic education, a consolidated elementary school in the South Hills area in 1995 was named the Bishop John B. McDowell Regional School.
“Bishop McDowell has made extraordinary contributions to the work of Catholic education at the diocesan and national levels,” said Father Kris Stubna, diocesan secretary for education. “As superintendent of schools and vicar for education, the bishop guided a system of schools that educated more that 120,000 students, the peak of Catholic school enrollment locally.
“His vision and leadership provided the solid and lasting foundations we continue to build on today. I can think of no better encouragement for those of us in Catholic education than Bishop McDowell's episcopal motto: ‘To Do and To Teach.’”
Bishop McDowell also authored seven biographies on the past bishops of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. He completed his last, a brief biography of Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, a month after celebrating his 84th birthday. His final book was an autobiography, completed in 2007.
Retired Pittsburgh Auxiliary Bishop William J. Winter said Bishop McDowell’s most outstanding trait was that he was “always a priest.”
He praised Bishop McDowell’s total dedication “to the work of the church” throughout his life, regardless of whether he was serving in a parish role or overseeing Catholic education.
“He really was a true pastor,” Bishop Winter said.
Born on July 17, 1921 in New Castle, Pa., the son of Bernard A. McDowell and Louise Hannon McDowell, he attended St. Lawrence O'Toole Elementary School and Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh.
He earned a bachelor's degree from St. Vincent College, Latrobe, in 1942, and a master's degree from the same school two years later. At Catholic University of America, he earned a master's degree in administration and education in 1950 and a doctorate in education and philosophy in 1952. Duquesne University awarded him an honorary doctorate of literature in 1962.
Bishop McDowell was ordained a priest in November 1945, and served as associate pastor at St. Irenaeus Parish, Oakmont. He was named assistant superintendent of schools in 1952, superintendent of schools in 1955, and vicar for education in 1970. He also served a term as head of the National Catholic Educational Association. He was also pastor of Epiphany Church, Pittsburgh, from 1969 until his retirement.
He was appointed papal chamberlain in September 1956 and domestic prelate in February 1964.
Bishop McDowell was ordained as auxiliary bishop of Pittsburgh and titular bishop of Tamazuca in St. Paul’s Cathedral on September 8, 1966.
In addition to such important diocesan assignments as his leadership role in the Parish Share Program and the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh Foundation, Bishop McDowell has served on many civic organization boards. He also was the chairperson of the diocese’s 150th anniversary observance in 1992-93.
One role in particular energized the bishop’s active years — officiating at confirmation. He loved the interaction with youngsters and the chance to reach them in a special moment in their lives. He confirmed well over 100,000 young people, and continued to celebrate confirmations in his retirement years.
Bishop McDowell was always a friend to and advocate for his fellow priests, Father Ronald Lengwin, spokesperson for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, said.
“Throughout his priestly and episcopal ministry, Bishop McDowell was an excellent teacher in the classroom, in the pulpit and in many leadership roles in our local church and in the church at the national level.
“In that role he has been a mentor to many priests who will be forever grateful to him, including myself,” Father Lengwin said. “He was able to inspire and motivate people to do their best. In his great love for the church, he would do anything within his power to help any priest who asked for his assistance.
Bishop Zubik stated that Bishop McDowell “used his many God-given gifts for the good of the Church that have blessed us in so many different ways.”
Funeral arrangements for Bishop McDowell are pending and will be announced shortly.