BAR HARBOR, Maine — The Rev. James Gower, a co-founder of the College of the Atlantic in Maine, has died at age 90.

The Catholic priest and peace activist joined businessman Les Brewer, a former football teammate at Bar Harbor High School, to help found the college in 1969. Also involved in the effort were Bernard K. “Sonny” Cough, Richard Lewis and Robert Smith, all of whom predeceased Gower.

According to officials with COA and with the Roman Catholic Diocese in Portland, Gower graduated from Bar Harbor High School in 1940, attended Notre Dame, served in the Navy in World War II and became ordained as a priest in 1953. Born in Noank, Conn., in 1922, Gower died early Monday at an assisted living facility in Bar Harbor, officials said.

COA President Darron Collins said Monday in a prepared statement that Gower initially proposed calling the school Acadia Peace College and helped shape the school into an interdisciplinary college with one major, human ecology.

”Father Jim was truly a remarkable human being and his impact was both wide and deep,” Collins wrote. “He was a moral and inspirational beacon for the college in some of our roughest years and toughest times.”

The college was created with the goal of helping to boost the year-round economy on Mount Desert Island and of having an environmental focus. COA, where only 32 students were enrolled when classes first were held in 1972, now has more than 300 students.

Bill Slavick, a peace activist who ran for the U.S. Senate in 2006, said Gower was active in Pax Christi, the Roman Catholic peace movement.

As a priest, Gower served for 15 years at Sacred Heart Parish in Waterville and as chaplain at Bates College, Husson College, University of Maine in Orono and at Bangor International Airport. Before retiring from full-time ministry in 1992, Gower also served parishes in Bar Harbor, Bucksport, Castine, Lewiston, Northeast Harbor, Portland, Springvale and Stonington. More recently, he served as interim pastor at parishes in Dexter in 2000 and in Ellsworth in 2002.

According to officials, a celebration of Gower’s life is planned for 11 a.m. Friday, June 28, at the Holy Redeemer Church in Bar Harbor, with a reception following at COA. Contributions to The Father James Gower Scholarship Fund at COA can be sent to: Father Gower Scholarship Fund, COA Development Office, 105 Eden St. Bar Harbor, ME 04609.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....

6 replies on “COA co-founder, priest, James Gower, dies at age 90”

  1. Father Gower was an amazing priest, he was all about the people and not so much about religion as a cult.

  2. Jim Gower, was a kind and intelligent man, and one of the best Priests the Roman Catholic Church had in New England.

    He remained a true ecumenicalist, ever willing to coperate and engage with other denominations even when doing so wasn’t always the most popular thing on Ocean Avenue.

    He will be sorely missed.

    1. “ever willing to cooperate and engage with other denominations”

      It’s funny you should mention that. My 86 year old father, who is not religious, was in a Congregational Church couple’s club back in the sixties because of my mother’s involvement in the annual minstrel show. When I called my father with the news last night, he related how my and my mother ended up in the “Congo” couple’s club, and were stuck for a site for a fundraising banquet when their church was undergoing repairs. My parents were members of Sacred Heart parish, and Father Gower graciously allowed the Congregational Church couple’s club to use the basement of Sacred Heart Church for their supper. That sort of thing was just unheard of at the time.

  3. Is the funeral service December 28th or do you really mean June 28th? He was kind, intelligent, and a holy man.

    1. Fr Jim Gower’s family wishes to have a memorial service with College of the Atlantic on June 28th. Many friends (myself included) would prefer to have observances as soon as possible. I was with Fr. Jim on Sunday morning for several hours reading to him & have known him for many years. I believe he would have preferred funeral services to be held in the local church right away but the family’s wishes come first. There will be at least one (if not more) memorial services held over the course of the next few months but COA will most likely be the largest (on June 28th) since Fr Jim had such an important role in the founding of the College.

  4. Jim Gower loved people and stepped forward where many chose to step back. This is the first I knew of his background. Had met him through work in prison ministry and believe he helped start Pastors For Peace that has encouraged relations between Cuba and the United States. He set an excellent example. “They shall know you are Christians by your love.” Jesus

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