Bishop Olwell was the first Passionist bishop in the Philippines.
Born Charles Bertram Olwell on November 4, 1898 in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York, he was the son of James and Ellen Evans Olwell. He professed his Passionist vows on September 15, 1916. He was ordained on February 4, 1923 at St. Vincent’s Abbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania by Bishop Hugh Boyle of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He accepted the challenge to become a missionary in Hunan, China and on August 25, 1923 he and four other Passionist missionaries arrived in Shanghai.
From 1923 until the Communist takeover, he managed an orphanage, served as parish priest, and held administrative positions in the Yuanling Diocese as vicar delegate, procurator to raise money, and Passionist superior, serving also as vicar general of the Yuanling Diocese under Bishop O’Gara.
With the Communist takeover of Hunan in 1949, he was put under house arrest. In 1951 a public trial declared him “subversive.” When he was expelled, he returned to the United States to regain his strength, served briefly as a parish priest, and then again accepted the call to be a missionary.
In 1958 he arrived in the Philippines at the Cotabato Passionist mission and set about applying the missionary skills learned in China. On April 25, 1961, he was consecrated the first prelate ordinary of the Marbel Diocese. This was a large administrative and pastoral challenge. Travel was over rough and mountainous terrain close to typhoon friendly seas. He had the added challenge of taking what he learned as a veteran missionary and instituting it anew along the lines of the new theological and pastoral opportunities fostered during the Second Vatican Council.
In 1969 Olwell submitted his resignation to Pope Paul. After consecrating his Passionist successor, Bishop Reginald Arliss, in 1970, Olwell returned to the United States. He died on January 30, 1972.