Father Marion Bowman, OSB, (1905-1999), a former president of Saint Leo College and its predecessor institution, Saint Leo College Preparatory School, will be recognized with a bronze statue outside his namesake athletic facility at Saint Leo University, the Marion Bowman Student Activities Center. The dedication ceremony will be held Saturday, April 2, at 12:30 p.m. as part of Saint Leo University Alumni Weekend activities.
The observance will honor the Kentucky-born Father Marion, who came to Saint Leo as high school freshman Richard Bowman in 1920 and stayed for the remaining eight decades of his life, becoming a key figure in the history of Saint Leo, the surrounding community, and the state of Florida.
The bronze statue depicts Father Marion as he is best remembered by Saint Leo students with a coach’s whistle in his hand and the Abbot’s Pectoral Cross over his heart, representing Father Marion’s two great loves—his passion for athletics and his strong, unwavering faith.
“Father Marion was a man who was never satisfied with a passing grade, never satisfied with the status quo, and never satisfied with good when greatness was possible,” said Dr. William J. Lennox Jr., president of Saint Leo University.
“Of course this statue also represents all of the monks who have worked selflessly for 126 years to help build Saint Leo into the third largest Catholic university in America. To this day the current Benedictine community helps care for our students. It is a blessing to have them remain a part of our fabric.”
Richard Bowman graduated from Saint Leo College Preparatory School in 1924 and immediately entered the Abbey as a novice. One of his first assignments was as the campus landscape architect and arborist. After professing his vows as a Benedictine monk, he was given the religious name Father Marion, and over his long life held virtually every position of responsibility in his religious community and the educational institutions the Benedictines sponsored. Father Marion was the prep school’s mathematics and science professor and, most notably, its athletic director from 1932 to 1954, during which time Saint Leo was a dominant power in high school football, basketball and track. During his tenure, the Saint Leo Prep Lions won so many championships in these sports that the trophy case soon had no room to hold all the awards.
In 1954, Father Marion was selected by his brother monks to be Saint Leo Abbey’s third abbot. He led his monastic community for 15 years until 1969, during which time he was a prime mover in transforming the prep school into a four-year baccalaureate college. As the college’s chancellor, he raised the funds to build the library, classrooms, science labs, residence halls, and the student activities/athletics building eventually named in his honor, and served as the college’s president for the 1970-1971 academic year.
A generous underwriting gift from Hjalma and Laura Johnson provided the funding for the statue’s design and creation. Longtime and dedicated supporters of Saint Leo, the Johnsons were close friends of Father Marion. Their generosity made this statue a reality and will ensure that Father Marion is remembered for many years to come. Hjamla Johnson served on the Saint Leo College Board of Trustees for more than 15 years and is a past chair. He is now an emeritus member of the board and was accorded an honorary doctoral degree from Saint Leo in 2007.
The life-size bronze statue is the work of Steven Dickey, a Tampa Bay artist who is world renowned for the memorial he created at MacDill Air Force Base to honor the nation’s Special Operations Forces. He is also the creator of a bronze statue titled A Spirit of Belonging, located in the courtyard of Apartments 5 and 6 on the Saint Leo University campus, which commemorates the first student of color to be admitted to Saint Leo and the monks who guided his education.
“Marion Bowman was a man of action—a man of deeds. He would be proud of all we have achieved, but there is still work to be done,” remarked President Lennox. “He would challenge us that now we are called to do even better.”