13-Jan-14 - (Phoenix, Ariz.) -- Bishop Alphonse Sowada, osc, the first bishop of the Diocese of Agats in Papua, Indonesia, died Jan. 11 in Onamia, Minn., at the age of 80.
“Bishop Al was a spiritual leader and shepherd with great foresight. Called as a missionary to serve the Asmat people, he was led by the Spirit in requesting to study cultural anthropology before taking up the task of proclaiming and living the joy of the Gospel in ‘the world away’ of Papua. We are grateful for his vocation to Crosier religious life and for the many years of inspired service to God and the Church among the Asmat people,” said Prior Provincial Tom Enneking, osc.
Alphonse August Sowada was born June 23, 1933, in Avon, Minn. He made his profession of vows in 1953 and was ordained a priest on May 31, 1958. Bishop Al went to the Crosier mission in Papua, Indonesia, as Crosier "Fr. Al" in May 1961, and was ordained bishop of the newly created Diocese of Agats in 1969. He served in the mission for 40 years, 32 of them as bishop. He retired as shepherd of the Diocese of Agats in 2001 and returned to Minnesota, first living in St. Cloud, Minn., and then moving in 2012 to the Lake Song Assisted Living facility in Onamia, adjacent to the Crosier priory, which he visited regularly for prayer and meals.
Bishop Al was instrumental in evangelizing the Asmat people and helping to save their identity through the preservation of Asmat Art and culture. “Evangelization of the peoples like the Asmat, however, does not mean insisting that all cultural practices end,” he said in a 2001 St. Cloud Visitor interview. “The result is ‘Catholicism with an Irian bent’…and helping them realize that God and his love are already present in their midst.”
He worked to promote awareness of environmental issues, human rights, and property rights among and for the Asmat people. Under the direction of Bishop Al, pastoral work among the Asmat people operated according to the spirit and documents of the Second Vatican Council. The missionary work included close dialogue between the Gospel and the local culture.
The reception of the body will be at 3 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16, at the Cathedral of St. Mary in St. Cloud. Fr. Robert Rolfes, vicar general for the Diocese of St. Cloud, will preside. Vigil Vespers will be held at 7 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. Mary with Prior Kermit Holl, osc, presiding. The funeral Mass will be celebrated at the Cathedral of St. Mary at 11 a.m. Friday, Jan. 17. St. Cloud Bishop Donald Kettler will preside. Private burial will follow in the Onamia priory cemetery.
In gratitude for his vocation to Crosier religious life and for the many years of inspired service to God and the Church among the Asmat people in Indonesia, we have established the Bishop Alphonse A. Sowada, osc, Scholarship Fund to honor the life of this remarkable man. The fund will provide support to Crosiers who are interested in advanced studies in philosophy, theology, anthropology, and the advancement of leadership skills to serve the worldwide Crosier order.