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San Clemente Journal

Monsignor McGowan, 104 Years Old … and Still Praying

Aug 23, 2019 01:51PM ● By Mike Chamberlin

Monsignor Anthony McGowan turned 104 last May.

by Mike Chamberlin

I opened my church bulletin at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church and saw an announcement wishing Monsignor McGowan a happy 104th birthday! What? Is that possible? The same McGowan who has a hall named in his honor at the church? To give you some perspective, 104 years ago the average worker in America made $687 dollars a year! 104 years ago, the cost of coffee was thirty cents a pound (I just paid $2.20 for a cup of coffee at Starbucks). 104 years ago, the RMS Lusitania was sunk on passage from New York to Britain by a German U-boat; killing 1,198 people.104 years ago Babe Ruth hit his first home run off of Jack Warhop. 
And 104 years ago, May 6, 1915, a baby boy was born in Castlebar, County Mayo, Ireland.
That baby boy was named Anthony McGowan, although everybody in his life simply called him Tony. He was the third youngest of ten children, and he has outlived the entire family. 

Tony was ordained a priest in 1941 at the start of WWII in his homeland of Ireland. His goal was to be a missionary priest in Africa or Asia, but the Lord had other plans for Fr. Tony. He migrated to America, first to Northern California, then, in 1960, he was offered a brand-new church, St. John The Baptist, in Costa Mesa.

In 1976 he was handed the keys to Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in San Clemente. While serving as pastor there in 1981, he was designated monsignor, an honorary title given to a priest who has distinguished himself and has been honored by the Pope for his service to the church. He remained at Our Lady of Fatima until his retirement in 1987.

At 104, he is certainly the oldest priest in the Orange County Diocese. In fact, he is the second oldest priest in the world. Fr. Jacques Clemons of Belgium is 107.

I recently had the opportunity to meet Msgr. Tony at Del Obispo Terrace Senior Living in San Juan Capistrano, where I presented him with some 
questions to get his perspective from his 104 years of life.

Q:  How did you come to arrive in America?
A:  I came to America in 1943 on board the Queen Mary (now permanently based in Long Beach). I traveled with the military as a Chaplain, arriving in Boston. I then took the train to Los Angeles, where I was assigned my first parish at Saint Anslem in Northern California.

Q: What is your secret to a long life?
A:  Relaxing is important.  I always made it clear to God that I didn’t want to die and I expect to be here for a long time! 

Q:  Do you still celebrate mass?
A: Up until a few years ago I would celebrate mass in my room at the retirement home. But reading became more and more difficult and I have decided to stop. One of my last masses was at my care giver’s home on Christmas day with her parents and family in attendance from New York.

Q:  You pastored at Our Lady of Fatima in San Clemente for a little over a decade, and they 
    dedicated a hall in your honor?
A:  I retired in 1987 after suffering a heart attack. It’s nice to be remembered with McGowan Hall, however a lot of the old parishioners are gone and many of the new families don’t know me. But I still attend OLF when possible.

Q:  What’s the future of the Catholic Church?
A:  The biggest change in the Catholic Church has been moving away from tradition towards independence. The church is getting more and more liberal and may one day give the Priesthood the option to marry or not.

Q:  What will be your legacy?
A:  I hope my legacy would be that I considered others before myself.