Sister Vivian Bowles, OSU: “I don’t think anyone cares more about the university…”

Sisters in Ministry Update:

Since 2012, Sister Vivian Bowles has been director of faith formation at St. Alphonsus Parish in St. Joseph, Ky.


Sister Vivian Bowles, back, left, is one of four women presidents of the four major colleges and universities in Owensboro. The others are Dr. Anne Cairns Federlein, back, right, of Kentucky Wesleyan College, Dr. Jacqueline Addington, front, left, of Owensboro Community and Technical College and Dr. Marilyn Brookman of Western Kentucky University, Owensboro Regional Campus.

“My father had the greatest influence on my life. He was physically challenged from the age of 18 months. He walked on crutches and was in a wheelchair, yet he always thought to serve, he thought to make his community better, he took his role of parent very seriously, and he instilled in me that you can never do enough to serve your God, your family and your country.”

Sister Vivian Marie Bowles, an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph and president of Brescia University since 1995, was talking about her father, the late James Bowles of Jeffersontown, who served two terms as mayor of that community.

She continued, “I have tried to follow my father’s model as best I can, and even though he’s been dead now for over 20 years, I still feel his presence a lot with me, his encouragement. Here’s the lease that he instilled in me – that even if you are female, you can accomplish what you want. You may have to work twice as hard, you may have to be twice as good as a man, but don’t ever let yourself be limited by being a woman.”

Sister Vivian took her father’s advice to heart and moved quickly from teaching third and fourth graders at Saint Pius X Grade School to presiding as president of Brescia University, the only Catholic college in the Diocese of Owensboro and the only Catholic university in Kentucky outside of Louisville.

Sister Vivian is pictured with four members of her cabinet, l. to r., Dale Cecil, vice-president for business and finance, Dr. James Ahern, vice-president for academic affairs, Chris Houk, dean of enrollment, and Verlyn Schueler, director of development.

She was the only child born to James and Willa (Billie) Francis Bowles of Jeffersontown. Outside the mayor’s office, her father was an accountant who owned his own insurance company. Her mother was employed by the drivers license bureau of Jefferson County.

Vivian Marie Bowles attended first through sixth grades at Saint Edward grade school in Jeffersontown, where she was taught by the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. She went away to boarding school and attended Mount Mercy Grade School in Pee Wee Valley for the seventh grade before returning to Saint Edward for the eighth grade.

After graduating from Saint Edward, she received high school scholarship offers from Mount Saint Joseph, Nazareth in Bardstown and Louisville Presentation. “I visited all three schools and felt best when I visited Mount Saint Joseph,” Sister Vivian recalls. “It was like a teenage decision. When I met the sisters there I found them loving and caring, just like the Ursulines I had had in elementary school, and I didn’t get that feeling at the other places.” She chose Mount Saint Joseph for high school.

After two years at the Mount, Sister Vivian says she “started feeling like ‘I think I want to be a sister.’ The feelings first came during a retreat, and I talked to the community about entering. We decided it would be best for me to wait.

“In my senior year, I talked to the Sisters of Mercy about my feelings. I contemplated joining the Mercies because one of my best friends had and she seemed very happy. But I became uncomfortable with that decision and at the end of my senior year decided that I really wanted to be an Ursuline sister. It was just a feeling that they were just excellent role models. I read The Life of Saint Angela Merici and that was what sealed it for me!”