Oak Park resident Jim Bowman’s new book looks back on life as Jesuit priest
Jim Bowman: Priest, husband, father, journalist, author. He grew up in Oak Park and still lives here, with is wife, Winnie. | Bill Dwyer~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 25, 2013 8:48AM
OAK PARK — Life-long Oak Park resident Jim Bowman has been a priest, journalist, author and historian, in addition to husband and father.
Bowman grew up in Oak Park in the 30s and 40s, attending St. Catherine of Sienna grade school and Fenwick High School. He entered the Jesuit seminary in 1950, and remained with the order for 18 years. But in 1968, after five years as a priest and much thought and soul-searching, he left the priesthood.
Soon after, he reconnected with the woman who would become his wife, Winnie. She and Bowman have lived in Oak Park since 1970 and raised their six children there.
Bowman soon found another passion, journalism and writing. He worked at the Chicago Daily News as the religion reporter until it folded in March 1978, then as a Chicago Tribune columnist for three years. He’s also written business histories and local histories.
While Bowman is conservative, he’s also modernist. And while he’s an ardent Catholic, he doesn’t believe the church is above examination. Which he’s done in three books so far. He also writes on a blog, Blithe Spirit (“Conservative, Catholic, ex-newsman”).
In November, his latest book, “Company Man: My Jesuit Life, 1950-1968,” was released by his own Blithe Spirit Publication in collaboration with Little Man Press.
In Company Man, Bowman reflects on his years “as a member of the Society of Jesus . . . from 18-year-old novice to seminary student of literature, philosophy, and theology and a priest for five years before leaving.”
Bowman writes that the book is “a story of personal development and at the same time a careful and respectful look at life in the world-renowned Jesuits.”
Over the years he came to realize the limits, at least for him, of the Jesuit lifestyle, and the opportunities of a secular, married life. He’s been married 43 years.
Oak Leaves spoke with Bowman recently in the comfortable vintage South Oak Park Avenue apartment he and Winnie share.
Q: What’s your latest book about?
A: “It’s about my time leading up to leaving the Jesuits. It’s not doctrinal. I never looked at (celibacy and the priesthood) as an institutional problem. It’s a personal problem.”
Q: But celibacy was a central issue?
A: “In the end, it was the tip point, the main reason I left the priesthood. There was a gnawing sense of discontent that, in the end, I felt it better for me and the world if I left the Society of Jesus and the priesthood.”
Q: Why did you join the Jesuits in the first place?
A: “I relished the idea of knowing everything I did would be God’s will. The obedience and following orders.”
Q: And marriage and sexuality?
A: “It’s certainly not just sexuality, but obviously that’s a major element. (I thought) marriage would be an adventure. Would be interesting and engage me. The companionship and being in life with someone else.”
Q: Any similarities between the two?
A: “There’s fidelity, for one thing. There’s the being careful to respect and take your responsibility for other people seriously. A sense of responsibility toward your children.”
Q: And you felt there was a connection between your journalist and priestly roles?
A: “Yes. I was out in the world of religion, (with) a sense of responsibility and a feeling that what I was doing was a segue to what I might have done as a (Jesuit) priest.”
Q: How so?
A: “I applied to be the religion reporter. The interview was my first time in a city newsroom. I never hesitated. It became an introduction to (a different type of) professionalism. There was a particular craft to learn. Being a newspaper reporter, I had to be clear, focused and organized.”
“There was no long, leisurely approach (to a subject). I remember (my first editor) saying, ‘We know you can write, but we don’t know if you can write 500 words on deadline.”
Q: You met some notable people at the Daily News.
A: “I sat next to Bob Herguth (father of reporter Robert Herguth). I remember giving him dictation on my stories for weeks after I broke my finger playing 16-inch softball (on the Daily News team).”
Q: With (16-inch fanatic and journalistic legend) Mike Royko?
A: “Oh yeah. He was one of the most astute journalists I ever met. He once told me ‘You don’t want to get a story. You want to get the story. In his own way, he was a genius.”
Q: Are you satisfied with how your life has turned out?
A: Oh yes, I am. I’m grateful to God. And to the people I have been thrown among.”
Q: So, would you say now there’s more than one way to serve God’s will?
A: “I think it worked out that way, yes. I hope so.”