Monsignor Myles J. McGowan, the oldest priest in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and pastor of St. Ursula's Roman Catholic Church in Parkville for more than two decades, died Saturday of a stroke at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium. He was 96.
"He was thoroughly a priest and was the patriarch of the archdiocese. He was well-regarded and loved by priests both young and old," said Bishop William C. Newman, a friend of 55 years.
"He had a practical common sense that he was noted for. He was willing to move forward with the church, and it must have been difficult for him after Vatican II, but he did it," Bishop Newman said. "He enjoyed parish ministry, and he made a lot of wonderful friendships. He always had a positive attitude and enjoyed life."
Monsignor McGowan, the son of farmers, was born and raised in Mohill in County Leitrim, Ireland.
After graduating from St. Mel's College in Longford, Ireland, he decided to enter the priesthood.
He attended All Hallows Seminary in Dublin and was ordained by then-Archbishop of Baltimore Michael J. Curley, who was a friend of the family, in Dublin in 1937.
After serving for two years in Askeaton, County Limerick, he was invited to come to Baltimore by Archbishop Curley, and took up his first assignment at St. Gregory the Great Roman Catholic Church in 1939.
Because of a need for military chaplains during World War II, Monsignor McGowan left St. Gregory's in 1943 and entered the Army's Chaplain School at Harvard University. One of his classmates there was William D. Borders, who later became archbishop of Baltimore.
While serving as chaplain at the Army Air Force's flight training school at Shaw Field in South Carolina, Monsignor McGowan became an American citizen.
He was sent to Italy, where he joined the 817th Engineer Aviation Battalion, and at war's end was decorated with a campaign ribbon with two battle stars.
When he returned from the war, he joined the Maryland National Guard, serving as chaplain until being discharged with the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1973.
He was associate pastor at Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Towson from 1946 to 1956, then served as pastor for two years at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Western Maryland.
Monsignor McGowan was pastor of St. Louis Roman Catholic Church in Clarksville from 1958 to 1967, and then was assigned to St. Ursula's Roman Catholic Church in Parkville, where he was pastor for 20 years until retiring in 1989.
"He was a fine leader of the parish and very shrewd when it came to finances, so when I took over, we were in excellent shape," said Monsignor A. Thomas Baumgartner, former St. Ursula's pastor. "I said, 'If that's the way he did things, then we will continue doing them the way he had done them.' "
The Rev. William Foley, former pastor of the Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation in Rosedale, who is currently a temporary administrator at St. Ann Roman Catholic Church in Hagerstown, was a longtime friend.
"He was a gentlemanly priest and a very kind and gentle pastor. He was a man who always saw the good in people," said Father Foley.
Monsignor McGowan, who never lost his Irish brogue, was noted for his sense of humor and colorful stories.
"Oh, yes, he had that great Irish wit and wisdom," Father Foley recalled.
Monsignor Baumgartner said he "kept his sense of humor until the day he died. And he always had that twinkle in his eye."
Monsignor McGowan told The Catholic Review in a 2007 article celebrating his 70 years as a priest that he didn't mind the honor of being the oldest priest in the archdiocese because it's "better than the alternative."
Bishop Newman said his friend had a "good balance in his life."
"He had a spiritual life, a priestly ministry and a social life. The only thing we couldn't do was to get him to exercise," he said. "When I asked about this, Myles said, 'Whenever I get the urge to exercise, I take a nap, and when I get up, it's gone.' He could see humor in everything."
Monsignor McGowan, who had dined at the Peppermill in Lutherville, one of his favorite restaurants, the night before his stroke, enjoyed sipping a glass of Scotch.
"He liked his Glenlivet and he liked debating whether the Irish or Scots had invented it, and the way whiskey was spelled, with an 'e' or without," said Monsignor Baumgartner.
Monsignor McGowan enjoyed attending the races and golfing.
"When a friend named a horse after him, he bet the horse for a while and then stopped. I asked him why, and he said the horse wasn't doing so good," said Father Foley, who praised his friend's ability as a handicapper. "He was excellent."
Before moving to Mercy Ridge seven years ago, Monsignor McGowan had lived at Long Crandon in Dulaney Valley and Mays Chapel.
He was a member of the Knights of Columbus and the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and often marched in Baltimore's annual St. Patrick's Day parade.
A Mass of Christian burial for Monsignor McGowan will be offered at 11 a.m. today at St. Ursula's, 8801 Harford Road.
He is survived by a sister, Eileen Fannon of Clondalkkin, Ireland; and many nieces and nephews.