Campus News

Honoring Father Marion Bowman with a Statue

Father Marion Bowman Pic 1

The statue dedication of Father Marion Bowman, O.S.B, took place on Apr. 2, during Alumni Weekend. The dedication was quite fitting during the weekend dedicated to alumni because many former students of this university returned to campus to celebrate in a weekend of festivities, including the dedication to the Father Marion’s statue, and many of these alumni knew Father Marion personally.

The ceremony was attended by alumni, current staff, and students. Although, on the day of the ceremony, it was raining heavily, the ceremony still took place at 12:30 pm in the gym. The master of the ceremony was Denny Moller, vice president of university advancement. After Moller, explained the importance of Father Marion and his statue, there was a prayer blessing of the statue.

The prayer was done by Father Robert V. Fucheck, a former student of Father Marion who also graduated in 1957 from Saint Leo College preparatory school, and a former teacher of history and theology of the prep school. In fact, after Fucheck joined the monastery, Father Marion insisted that Fucheck coached soccer even though he never played this sport, having played football in prep school.

Throughout the ceremony, Moller recognized the current Benedictine brothers and brothers-in-training, the benefactors, Hjalma Johnson and Laura Johnson, and the artist Stephen Dickey. The brothers, the benefactors, and the artist were recognized separately throughout the ceremony by standing and having the audience applaud for their great works.

Also, the audience applauded the current president, William J. Lennox, Jr., who presented a speech during the event. He offered appreciation to the benefactors and his predecessor, Arthur F. Kirk, Jr., who initially arranged for this statue to be installed. Lennox also claimed that the statue is more than simply a representation of Father Marion and his contribution to Saint Leo but also every monk that has contributed to the greatness of Saint Leo.

Although Lennox did not know Father Marion personally, he explained attributes and the mentality of Father Marion.

“Father Marion was never satisfied with the status quo, and never satisfied with good when greatness was possible,” said Lennox during his speech. “He is a great inspiration. He wouldn’t accept ordinary, he would only accept greatness.”

Father Marion, born Richard Bowman, came to Saint Leo when it was simply a preparatory school in 1920.

“He was [a] bright student and an outstanding athlete,” said Francis Crociata, senior development officer, about the time Father Marion attended the prep school.

Hailing from Kentucky, Father Marion gravitated toward the religious life and as soon as he graduated from Saint Leo College Preparatory School in 1924, he became a young monk-in-training. In fact, to begin on his path in being a monk, he entered the Abbey as a novice. According to University Communications, after his profession of his vows as a Benedictine monk, Father Marion was granted the religious name Father Marion.

“An interesting thing is one of his first assignments was to take care of the grounds. So, a lot of the oldest trees on the campus were planted by the then brother Marion,” Crociata said.

In addition to being a science and mathematics teacher, campus landscape architect, and arborist at the prep school, he was appointed to be the athletic director, according to University Communications. From 1932 to 1954, he coached football, track, basketball, and baseball as athletic director of Saint Leo. Father Marion led Saint Leo from being a losing school to one of the dominating schools in the athletic arena. For two decades, 1930’s and 1940’s, Saint Leo won an abundance of sports championships. In fact, Saint Leo was not only the most successful school in Florida for athletics but also arguably the most successful school in the Southeast.

“He was kind of coach that demanded the best out of every one work hard to do your best, [and] he insisted as a coach to look after his students’ studies,” said Crociata.

During Lennox’s speech at the statue dedication, he stated some of Father Marion’s quotes while coaching: “Thou shall not quit. Thou shall not be poor losers. Thou shall not gloat. Thou shall not underestimate thy opponent. Thou shall not over estimate thy self.”

In 1954, Father Marion was elected by his fellow monks to be the abbot, and he held this position for 15 years until 1969, becoming the third abbot in Saint Leo’s history. During this time, Saint Leo was transforming from a prep school to a college. Also, for most of the 1960’s, the then Abbot Marion was chancellor, which is chairman of the board.

As the chairman, he was able to raise money to build numerous buildings to aid in the transformation of Saint Leo to four-year Baccalaureate College. These buildings include the library, residents’ halls, classrooms, and science labs, according to University Communications. Father Marion was hands on in the engineering of some of these buildings since he loved construction and was a self-trained architect and project engineer. The Marion Bowman Center was built the same year that the then Abbot Marion served as acting president for the academic year of 1970-1971, and thus this athletic center was named after him.

“He lived for a long time as he stepped down as abbot. Retired, he worked around the college, being useful. He was the vice president of the democratic party of Florida,” explained Crociata.

Jumping ahead to 1997, Kirk’s first year as Saint Leo president, Kirk and Father Marion happened to gravitate towards each other. Actually, Kirk had something in common with Father Marion: a passion for athletics. Father Marion and Kirk were cut from the same cloth, both becoming friends during the beginning of Kirk’s presidency, according to Crociata.

Kirk had the idea that students should encounter works of art. So, whenever the university could afford it, statues should made. Since, in 1999, Father Marion died at age 94, Kirk came up with the idea to have the statue of Father Marion installed because he realized that many students did not know much about Father Marion, Crociata mentioned.

The statue of Father Marion was actually funded by generous benefactors, Hjalma Johnson and Laura Johnson. They allowed for the dedication of this statue to happen, both being were close friends of Father Marion and Saint Leo advocates. In the 1980’s, Hjalma Johnson was once a chairman of the Saint Leo college board and served as a trustee for over 15 years. Having served for such a long time, Saint Leo elected him as a trustee of emeritus, this honor means he can attend board meetings and voice his opinion, although he holds no voting power. They also donated funds for the statue, titled For Those Who Serve, which honor those who served in the US armed forces.

The statue was made by Steven Dickey, the same sculptor of the bronze statue in the courtyard of Apartments 5 and 6 honoring the acceptance of the first African American by the monks, titled A Spirit of Belonging. Dickey is famous for many sculptors, including the Special Operation Forces Memorial at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. In fact, the bronze statue of Father Marion was originally designed from a clay model. The cast of the clay was made and the bronze filled this cast, and the after numerous steps, the bronze statue was the product.

The statue is very detailed; upon closer look of the statue, the impression of glasses and Father Marion’s crow’s feet can be seen. The statue has the abbot’s gold pectoral cross chain over the heart, representing how close his faith was to Father Marion’s heart. His left fist is shooting upwards toward the sky, representing how Father Marion coached; the statue also has a coach’s whistle in his right hand. This statue encompasses the physical features as well as the essence of Father Marion, representing his two passions: athletics and religious life.

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