By Kathy Gaillard
While she never knew him, Michael (Mike) Anthony Bowen, a Roman Catholic deacon, husband, father, and esteemed litigator with a prominent Milwaukee law firm, unknowingly changed the trajectory of Cynthia Perkins’ life. Deacon Mike succumbed to pulmonary hypertension on January 19, 2021, but from all accounts, he lived life large, and even in death, graciously and generously impacted the lives of those less fortunate.
“During the last 36 hours of his life, Mike could no longer speak, but he wrote me a note asking that I make a substantial donation to Franciscan Peacemakers, an organization he became familiar with through his affiliation with Deacon Steve Przedpelski, Director of Franciscan Peacemakers,” said Sara Bowen, his wife and mother of their five children.
When Sara carried out her husband’s wishes and delivered the check to Franciscan Peacemakers, she asked Deacon Steve if he knew of anyone who might need a used, but well maintained Toyota car that had belonged to her husband. As it turns out, he did, and Cynthia Perkins, an outreach and recovery support specialist with Franciscan Peacemakers, also became a recipient of the Bowens’ generosity.
“I was with Mary Sumlin-Leach (Associate Director of Franciscan Peacemakers) picking up supplies when she told me that someone had something to present to me. I was overjoyed and overwhelmed to receive the car. Nothing like this has ever happened to me. I completed the program in Franciscan Peacemaker’s Clare Community and am looking for housing, but I continue to work in both the Outreach and Hospitality Ministries of Franciscan Peacemakers. Once I have my own place, I’ll need reliable transportation. It’s a relief to know that I’ll be able to get around—visit my daughter and grandchildren, go to the store and doctor’s appointments. It lightens my load. This was such a blessing,” said Perkins.
Sara said that Deacon Mike became acquainted with Deacon Steve through various ministerial channels and was familiar with the work that Franciscan Peacemakers does. From time to time, Deacon Steve would call on Deacon Mike for advice, support and collaboration on various initiatives aimed at keeping women from being sexually exploited.
Founded by Fr. Bob Wheelock, Pastor of St Elizabeth, and Fr. Mike Sullivan, Pastor of St. Ben’s, and later joined by Deacon Steve, Executive Director of the organization, Franciscan Peacemakers connects women survivors of sexual exploitation to safe housing, meaningful work, and a healing network of support. The organization works toward ending human sex trafficking through service and advocacy. They minister on the streets of Milwaukee reaching out primarily to women engaging in prostitution, but also to the homeless and families living in poverty. Operating on a ‘no-judgment’ premise, they canvass the streets, passing out bag lunches and personal care items, and offering a listening ear and hugs. They sometimes provide referrals to agencies able to address the complexity of women’s needs given histories of trauma and abuse, as they solidify their trust among the women and build upon those relationships.
Women who live rent-free in Franciscan Peacemaker’s residential facility, Clare Community, learn employment and soft skills such as the importance of being on time, following directions, and accountability. They are taught to make bath products— soap, lotion, bath bombs, salt scrubs, and candles— and sell them at various events such as craft fairs and farmers’ markets. They are paid for working and required to save half of their earnings so that when they complete the program, they have funds to start living independently.
Deacon Mike was also an accomplished novelist, as evidenced by the more than 19 successful mystery novels he wrote under his name and that of his pseudonym, Hillary Bell Locke. To that end, it’s not surprising that his end-of- life generosity closed the book on one remarkable, life well lived and opened a new and happy chapter for a worthwhile organization and a woman trying to get her life back on track.