Thursday, August 26, 2010

Who was Sister Thea Bowman?

Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA
Bertha Bowman was born in December of 1937 in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Her father was a physician and her mother a school teacher. She was raised as a Methodist in the little town of Canton, Mississippi. At the age of nine, Bertha sought and received her parents' permission to seek admission into the Catholic Church. The teachers which taught her at Holy Child Jesus School in Canton were a positive influence on Bertha and, by the age of 15, she followed God's call to the religious life, moving to La Crosse, Wisconsin to become an aspirant in the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. There, she received the religious name by which most know her now: Thea.

Sister Thea received her bachelor's degree from Viterbo College in Wisconsin and completed graduate work at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, earning a Ph.D. After completing college, Sister Thea served as a teacher at schools in Wisconsin and at her alma mater, Holy Child Jesus in Canton as well as at various universities. She also worked in a variety of positions within the Catholic Diocese of Jackson.

Aside from her work in education, Sister Thea was a gifted speaker and singer. She gave lectures throughout the world on racial harmony and African American issues. She spoke with joyful passion and with power, often bringing her audience together at some point in her remarks, with a soul-stirring rendition of a favorite hymn or spiritual. It was said that hers was a ministry of reconciliation and joy.

In 1984, Sister Thea was diagnosed with cancer. Undaunted in the face of adversity, she often said that her prayer was only, with God's help, "to live until I die." In her final years, she did just this, accepting and offering up the sufferings that her illness afforded. She died in 1990, at the age of 53.

Sister Thea is a wonderful example of one who spent her life and her talents, trying to bring people together. She saw in the Gospel of Christ, not only the path to salvation, but also the way to reconciliation and to a joy-filled unity which transverses differences of race, culture and class. In the Catholic Campus Ministy at Ole Miss, we ask for Sister Thea's prayers and look to her example as we seek to minister to all on our campus with joyful compassion and reconciling love.