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Joseph Oliver Bowers
Joseph Oliver Bowers
Birth: 28 March 1910
Massacre, British Leeward Islands (present-day Dominica)
Death: 5 November 2012
Agomanya, Eastern Region, Ghana
Age: 102 years, 222 days
Country: DominicaDMA

Joseph Oliver Bowers (28 March 1910 – 5 November 2012) was a prelate of the Catholic Church from Dominica, who served as Bishop of Accra in the then Gold Coast from 1953. He was the first Black Catholic bishop to be consecrated in the United States in the 20th century, and the first ever to ordain African-American Catholic priests. He is credited with having tripled the Catholic population and parishes in Ghana and for substantially increasing the number of Catholic priests and religious laity in the Diocese of Accra. At the time of his death in Ghana, aged 102, he was the second-oldest Roman Catholic bishop and the oldest from the Caribbean.


Joseph Oliver Bowers was born in Massacre, British Leeward Islands (present-day Dominica) on 28 March 1910. He was educated at the Dominica Grammar School, before traveling to the United States to attend St. Augustine Seminary, in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. He was ordained on 22 January 1939, and continued as a priest in the Society of the Divine Word from 1939 to 1952. He was then appointed auxiliary bishop of Accra, Ghana, and Titular Bishop of Cyparissia. Bowers was appointed Bishop of Accra on 8 January 1953, and received his episcopal consecration on 22 April 1953, from Cardinal Spellman at the Church of Our Lady of the Gulf in Bay St. Louis, becoming the first openly Black bishop consecrated in the United States.

In 1957 Bowers founded the congregation of the Sisters of the Handmaids of the Divine Redeemer (HDR) in Accra, which was dedicated to caring and comforting the poor. He was also the founder of St John’s Seminary and College known, as of 2012, as Pope John Senior High School and Minor Seminary.

Bowers attended Vatican II from 1962 to 1965, along with some 3,000 bishops from around the world.

In recognition and acknowledgement of his work in Ghana, when the diocese of St. John's-Basseterre in the West Indies was created in 1971 – comprising the islands of Antigua-Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands – Bowers was appointed its first bishop on 16 January 1971, becoming the chief pastor in Antigua. On 17 July 1981, he retired from church office and, after some years spent in Charlestown, Nevis, returned to Dominica, where he lived in Mahaut in the care of his sister, Blossom Ann Reid.

In the 1990s the HDR Sisters, some of whom had periodically visited him in Dominica, invited him back to Ghana, where they cared for him in the town of Agomanya. At the celebrations there for his 100th birthday a guest was Nicholas Liverpool, president of Dominica.

Joseph Oliver Bowers died in Agomanya in the Eastern Region of Ghana on 5 November 2012 at the age of 102 years, 222 days. He was buried at the Holy Spirit Cathedral, Accra. Joseph Bowers is currently one of the oldest known men born in Dominica.