Mourners packed Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic church in Acton, west London, yesterday for the Requiem Mass for pro-life campaigner Phyllis Bowman.
The chief celebrant was Fr John Leahy SSCC who described Mrs Bowman as a “champion of the most vulnerable”. Fr Leahy said that there was a “big bucket of words to describe Phyllis”, and continued: “The greatest thing I could say is that she was child of God, a woman of faith, a woman of prayer”.
He described Mrs Bowman’s sufferings and works as “Christ-like”, saying: “She was slapped and put down and yet she always ran the race with courage to do what was right.” He said later that “we didn’t really recognise how great she was”.
Fr Leahy lamented that Mrs Bowman’s work for the unborn did not always receive support from the people she should have expected it from. He said: “Support from churches and priests wasn’t as forthcoming as it should have been. It didn’t stop her at all, it just fired her on.”
He said that although Mrs Bowman appeared to be a “crushed reed” on the outside she was “a volcano on the inside – utterly determined to carry on”. He also said that, ironically, the safest place for any baby should be in its mother’s womb and he paid tribute to Miss Bowman’s work to defend the unborn child.
Mourners attending the Mass included her husband Jerry, her brother, Monty, and her sister, Betty.
After Holy Communion her godson, nephew and close friend the Rev Alan Rabjohns paid personal tributes to Mrs Bowman. Rev Rabjohns described Phyllis Bowman as “a great campaigner for the beauty and dignity of human life”.
Rev Rabjohns also spoke of Miss Bowman’s love and devotion for her husband Jerry Canty, who she described as her “Canty King.”
Phyllis Bowman was born on March 14 1926 and died on May 7 2012 aged 85. On the day her death was announced parliamentarians praised the former Fleet Street journalist, who originally founded the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children in 1967 and subsequently founded Right to Life.
Catholic peer Lord Alton of Liverpool, who attended Bowman’s Requiem Mass, described her as “an indefatigable champion of the unborn child and for the sanctity of human life”. He said: “Her tireless efforts, right up to her final illness and last days, serve as an inspiration to the next generation. She was an extraordinarily talented woman, utterly dedicated, highly articulate, politically shrewd and the possessor of an encyclopaedic memory.
“Her early training as a Fleet Street journalist never left her short of things to say. Her Christian faith and her beloved husband, Gerry, kept her strong throughout years of having to fight endless battles against abortion, embryo experimentation, human cloning and euthanasia. Her name deserves to be associated with some of the great women who have given their lives to great causes – Elizabeth Fry, Florence Nightingale, Emmeline Pankhurst, Cicely Saunders, Mother Teresa and Sue Ryder.”
Throughout the Mass personal tributes portrayed Miss Bowman as a highly organised and energetic woman. Following the news of her death last week Catholic MP Ann Widdecombe said: “She is probably already getting the heavenly hosts organised. Right to Life has lost a much-loved founder and all of us a much-loved friend. The biggest tribute we can pay her is to ensure her vigorous defence of the helpless unborn child continues unabated.”
As Mrs Bowman’s godson Nicholas described her final days he explained that as she lay in hospital, barely able to speak, she overheard a family discussing if they would be allowed to care for their sick relative at home. At this point Miss Bowman found her voice and asserted that indeed they could before sinking back into silence.
The first reading was from Ecclesiastes 3:1-13, beginning “to everything there is a season”, and later continuing, “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance”. This was followed by Psalm 23 and the Gospel reading was John 14: 1-4, during which Christ says: “There are many rooms in my Father’s house, and I am going to prepare a place for you.”
Bowman was known for her great devotion to Mary and her love of the rosary. Fr Leahy explained that she would often stop work in the middle of the office and recite three Hail Marys. As mourners received Holy Communion they sang the hymn “Holy Virgin, by God’s decree”.