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Memphis Daily News
Father Don’s Legacy: Planting Seeds of Hope
January 20, 2016
By Dr. Mary C. McDonald

It is said that the future belongs to those who give the next generation reason to hope. This saying rings true in the life of Rev. Donald Mowery, and is lived out through his decades of commitment to youth in Memphis and across the country.

Known as Father Don, he studied for the priesthood at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and was ordained an Episcopal priest at St. Andrew’s Church in Nashville on Jan. 18, 1957. Now, nearly 50 years later, the seeds of hope he has planted in those generations are growing, blooming and continuing to spread.

Father Don’s ministry in Nashville included working with youth and serving as chaplain for the Nashville Police Department. He has a gift for listening, understanding and connecting. He calls it spiritual networking. His nonjudgmental approach to bringing young people together, of healing, lifting and expecting the best, is all about doing the right thing for others.

Father Don came to Memphis in January 1963 to lead a fairly new social services ministry of the Episcopal Church called Youth Services. During the next 30 years, under Father Don’s leadership, Youth Services grew into a successful, dynamic and sustainable organization that has become a model for youth programs across the country, and one that continues making a difference.

Father Don’s service to others knows no boundaries. He knows that all young people are important and valued. In his youth ministry he collaborated closely with the Memphis Police Department, Juvenile Court, Memphis City Schools, other schools, churches and organizations to bring young people in all sectors of Memphis together to provide positive experiences that would change their lives and our community for the better. He was the right person in the right place at the right time.

In 1963, with his hallmark compassion and innovation, Father Don started a series of summer camps to provide disadvantaged urban boys the opportunity to learn valuable lessons in life, effective communication with others and self-discipline, and to direct their energy into constructive endeavors by developing their skills and talents in an outdoor setting. The camps were open to boys of all races, and Father Don and Youth Services’ pioneering effort in integration were groundbreaking.

The summer of 1968, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was a time of heightened racial tension in Memphis. But Father Don knew it was, more than ever, a time for healing and bringing young people together. He was warned, however, that the interracial summer camps, which started out in Fuller State Park, could be at risk. Through Father Don’s networking efforts the camps were moved to the Naval Air Station in Millington for security reasons, a move which eventually spawned similar youth camp programs in other military bases across the country.

In 1970. Father Don started a talk radio show for youth on WHBQ, “Talk It Out with Father Don,” to give teenagers a voice. Forty-six years later, Father Don still hosts the show and has provided multiple generations of youth not only a voice but the wisdom of the thousands of guests he has hosted. His legacy of support, direction, and inspiration to youth is captured in “Spiritual Networking: Father Don Mowery and Youth Service,” a newly released book by David Yawn and Darrell Uselton.

Contact Dr. Mary C. McDonald, a national education consultant, at 574-2956 or visit

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