Sister Thea Bowman
Sister Thea Bowman, a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, lived life with hope, love and justice.

Sister Thea's story

 

Born December 29, 1937, in Yazoo City, Miss., Thea was reared as a Methodist until at age nine when she asked her parents if she could become a Catholic.

Gifted with a brilliant mind, beautiful voice and a dynamic personality, Sr. Thea shared the message of God's love through a teaching career. After 16 years of teaching, at the elementary, secondary and university level, the bishop of Jackson, Miss., invited her to become the consultant for intercultural awareness.

Sister TheaIn her role as consultant Sr. Thea, an African-American, gave presentations across the country; lively gatherings that combined singing, gospel preaching, prayer and storytelling. Her programs were directed to break down racial and cultural barriers. She encouraged people to communicate with one another so that they could understand other cultures and races.

In 1984, Sr. Thea was diagnosed with breast cancer. She prayed "to live until I die." Her prayer was answered, and Thea continued her gatherings seated in a wheelchair. In 1989, the U.S. bishops invited her to be a key speaker at their conference on Black Catholics. At the end of the meeting, at Thea's invitation, the bishops stood and sang "We Shall Overcome" with gusto.

Thea lived a full life. She fought evil, especially prejudice, suspicion, hatred and things that drive people apart. She fought for God and God's people until her death in 1990.

 



Thea Prayer Card (pdf file)

 

Thea in the news

 

April 2014-

Sister Thea Bowman Black Catholic Educational Foundation 18th Annual Sponsorship Dinner

 

March 31, 2014 - "Let Your Light Shine" by Br. Mickey McGrath

Thea image March 31, 2014-by Br. Mickey McGrath

 

2014 articles

March 2014 - Sister Thea is featured in the March 2014 issue of Give Us This Day-a new, personal prayer periodical from Liturgical Press-a trusted publisher of liturgy, Scripture and spirituality founded by the Benedictines of Saint John's Abbey in 1926. Deeply rooted in the Catholic tradition, Give Us This Day, is about prayer: praying daily, praying well, praying with confidence. Read Thea feature "Blessed Among Us" here.

 

Thea's Turn in New York City

Mary Queen Donnelly, author and childhood friend of Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA (1937-1990), sends this exciting news from the Dramatists Guild.

A staged reading of Thea's Turn, a full-length drama based on the life of Sister Thea Bowman, will take place at the recently renovated Jesuit St. Francis Xavier Church, 46 West 16th Street, New York City, at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014. The reading is directed by Gerald Glackin and sponsored by the Lay Spirituality Program of St. Francis Xavier Church NYC. Public is invited. Admission free.

For more information: Thea's Turn, featured on page 8 in Spring 2012 FSPA Perspectives magazine, includes colorful photos and playwright Mary Queen Donnelly's comments on the October 2011 production in New Orleans, La.

 

2013 articles

 

November 2013 - Sister Thea Bowman was honored at liturgy at St. Paul's Cathedral in Pittsburgh. Read the articles:

 

  • August 2013

A new review of the book Hope Sings, So Beautiful: Graced Encounters Across the Color Line by Christopher Pramuk graces the National Catholic Reporter’s Aug. 21 issue. In paragraph 3, Sister Thea Bowman is showcased with Martin Luther King, Jr. as an activist. Read the article here.

  • August 2013

Across Great Divides

America July 29-August 5, 2013

Anthony J. Pogorelc

New book, Hope Sings, So Beautiful by Christopher Pramuk, features Sister Thea Bowman. Read the review here.

As everyone was scrambling for information after the bombing at the Boston Marathon, CNN announced that “a dark-skinned individual” was seen leaving the area. Recently, in an article on wealth in the United States, The New York Times reported that white families are about six times as wealthy as black and Hispanic families. There is a color line. It divides people and is an obstacle to social justice. Christopher Pramuk, a theology professor at Xavier University in Cincinnati, invites us to face the complexities of race in the United States with truthfulness and hope.


Thea Bowman, FSPA, believed Catholicism had the power to forge empathetic relationships across the color line.

 

 

 

 

  • April 11, 2013

2013 Program cover17th Annual Scholarship Dinner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • February 24, 2013

In its Feb. 24, 2013 issue, the La Crosse Tribune included the article “Local roots: artists and entertainers with ties to La Crosse.”

Sister Thea Bowman was among them. The feature introduces her and the others in short biographies compiled by former UW-L English professor Richard Boudreau. Go to the online edition of the Tribune article and select Sister Thea’s name to view hers (and the same for the others).

  • January 11, 2013

Carol Baass Sowa, staff writer for San Antonio, Texas' Today's Catholic, wrote: "I did not know her, but had reviewed a smaller book on her some years back by Brother Michael McGrath (This Little Light of Mine Lessons in Living from Sister Thea Bowman, Orbis Books, 2008), which I passed on to my granddaughter, so was excited to see your more detailed book on her wonderful life show up here at Today’s Catholic so I could read and review it too."

Read her meticulous review of Thea's Song here.

2012 articles

 

  • Nov Dec 2012 National Catholic Chaplains' publish a review of Thea's Song.

Bruce Aquilar, BCC titled his review of the Thea biography by Charlene Smith, FSPA, and John Feister, "Biography tells the story of the amazing Sister Thea who shared her gifts through story and song"

This biography reads like a novel – the story of young Bertha, a young black girl from Canton, MS, who at age 15 makes a decision to commit herself to a new life in a faraway place, leaving her beloved home and family. Along the way, she falls in love with the work of a fellow Southerner, William Faulkner, becomes a teacher, studies further in our nation’s capital and visits Europe.

Increasingly exhausted by terminal cancer, this woman perseveres to share her gifts through words and song with many, both in her church and across the land. Bertha became Sister Thea, (whose mother, a teacher, was Episcopalian and whose father, the town doctor, was Methodist), one of the most inspiring Roman Catholic nuns of the 20th century United States.

Read it here.

  • December 12, 2012. Thank You, Sisters!

John Feister (with Charlene Smith, FSPA, co-author of Thea's Song) describes his new book, Thank You, Sisters: Stories of Women Religious and How They Enrich Our Lives. Read it here. Very nice! Included will be a piece by Fr. Maurice Nutt about Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA (1937-1990). The book will be released in February 2013.

  • 2013 BeeStill Calendar by artist Michael O'Neil McGrath

Sister Thea is featured in the 2013 Bee Still calendar (November, with Dorothy Day). According to the calendar’s introduction, “It couldn’t have been easier to select the theme for this year’s Bee Still calendar [A Heavenly Leadership Conference of Women Religious and Religious Women]. Each of the images of wise and holy women that you see in these pages was painted long before the recent attention was brought to bear on women religious in the United States …” The calendar is for sale at Beestill.

  • November 22, 2012

Sister Thea Bowman was featured as a “person who has inspired me to let my light shine” in the Nov. 22 issue of the Madison, Wis., Catholic Herald. Recalling an event the reporter Jeff Hedglen attended at age 16, he wrote, “She [Sister Thea] sang slow and sweet, calm and powerful, inviting and engaging, soothing and challenging, all at the same time. It was a moment I have never forgotten.” Read the article here.

McNamara's column, "In Ages Past," is published every Tuesday on theCatholic portal. Subscribe via email or RSS.

  • October 2012

Thea in Green. Sister Thea Bowman was mentioned in Michael McGrath’s article Faith Circles: Making a mandala with paint and paper (America Magazine, Oct. 22, 2012).

In the section titled Circle of Soul Friends, Michael wrote, “I painted this trio of favorite saints and heroes (Blessed John XXIII, St. Francis de Sales, Sister Thea Bowman), prophets who read the signs of their troubled times and led the way to reform through joyful optimism against all odds.” Full story (and view Michael’s mandala) here.

 

  • July 2012. Diane Donovan and James Cox, editors at Midwest Book Review, Oregon, Wis. (near Madison), recommend Thea's Song: The Life of Thea Bowman by Charlene Smith and John Feister as one of three selections for The Christian Studies Shelf in midwest libraries. The biography is powerful on many levels and assures that Thea's life and contributions won't be forgotten. Read the review here.

 

  • June 2012. Todd Flowerday of Catholic Sensibility writes: As the USCCB’s Fortnight for Freedom continues, we take an alternative track here. I’ve been promising more voices, and today, guest blogger Fran Rossi Szpylczyn contributes a stirring testimony for a stirring woman of our times.

No review of worthy women of our church can exclude the woman who would not be excluded at any cost – Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA. A woman religious who stated that she wanted to “go home like a shooting star,” she also lived that way; her life was like a blazing tale of God’s glory, against the sky of her life.

Read Fran Rossi Szpylczyn's essay here.

  • June 2012 Midwest Book Review touts Thea's Song: The Life of Thea Bowman as a strong pick for library biography collections focusing on the Civil Rights era and those who tried to make a difference. Read the review here.

 

  • June 10, 2012. “What’s the 411?” With Sharon Kay”

    Sister Charlene Smith and John Feister are scheduled as guests on the radio show “What’s the 411?” With Sharon Kay.” The program will air Sunday, June 10, from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. CST. Sharon will interview Sister Charlene and John about their book, Thea’s Song.

    What’s the 411? with Sharon Kay airs live on 88.1FM WFSK Fisk University, Nashville, Tenn.

    Listen online by clicking “Listen Live” at the following link.

  • May 25, 2012 From The Tidings, Los Angeles CA. Read the article here.

    Targeting youth: The Sister Thea Bowman Music Academy


  • May 5, 2012. From the National Federation of Priests Councils

    This Week #472 Week 4.29.2012-5.5.2012


    In Thea’s Song: The Life of Thea Bowman, Sr. Charlene Smith, FSPA and John Feister write a moving chronology of an African American woman born into a Protestant family of freed slaves, went on to join the Catholic Church, become a religious of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, obtain a Ph.D. in English and founded the National Black Sisters Conference.

    Perhaps an excerpt from the Introduction best tells about Thea Bowman’s life and why this volume is important: “In the years after the peak of the civil rights movement, in the 1960s and especially in the 1980s, as the nation grappled with the questions of racial identity and equality, hers became a mesmerizing presence wherever she went . . . . Through music and reflection, she helped people everywhere she went to explore their identity and to find their deepest humanity.”

    Available for $18.00 from Orbis Books, P.O. Box 302, Maryknoll, NY 10545-0302. Tel: (800) 258-5838. Fax: (914) 941-7005. E-mail: orbisbooks@maryknoll.org. Web site: www.maryknollmall.org.

 

  • Recent reviews of Thea's Song The Life of Thea Bowman.

    --Myja Thibault, Virginia Union University, Richmond, Va., wrote review of Thea biography for American Catholic Studies, the publication of the American Catholic Historical Society, Philadelphia, Pa.

    --Savanah Jones, editor, www.SirReadaLot.org, Chapel Hill, N.C., published Thea's Song review in the biography section. Sir Read aLot had also reviewed the biography in 2010.


  • Thea's Turn, a play about Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA (1937-1990), by Mary Queen Donnelly.

    --Thea's Turn article written by Jen Pick was featured in spring 2012 FSPA Perspectives magazine. Includes colorful photos and playwright Mary Queen Donnelly's take on the October 2011 production in New Orleans, La.

  • University of Mississippi reprises 33-minute video of Sister Thea Bowman at their annual international William Faulkner conferences at Oxford, Miss. Highlights from Thea's presentations (1980-1989) are excerpted. Includes Thea singing. Watch her hit an amazing high note at the 1989 conference. See portrait artist Marshall Bouldin finishing his ubiquitous portrait of Thea in her Canton, Miss., home.

    --Are You Walkin' With Me? Video is shown in Southern Studies program at Ole Miss each year.
    "Are you walkin with me?" Sister Thea Bowman on Vimeo 32:36 (vimeo.com/11113853 - Apr 21, 2010)

     

At the end of the video, Mike Wallace, CBS 60 Minutes, recalls: "She had the remarkable quality of bringing people together. Black and white. Catholics, Protestants and Jewish. Kids and oldsters. I don't want to . . . I am reluctant to say too much because it will make it sound better than life, but it is pretty hard to go much better than that about Thea Bowman. She was just a remarkable individual."

 

  • "Let Us Love One Another during Holy Week" - The Final Wisdom of Sr. Thea Bowman, FSPA (1937-+1990)

    Sister Thea Bowman was mentioned in an April 1 blog entry by St. Malachi Parish, Cleveland, Ohio. Blogger Father Tony Schuerger writes, “Sr. Thea Bowman was a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (F.S.P.A.). She helped found the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University in New Orleans and was instrumental in the preparation and publication of the American Black Catholic Hymnal, Lead Me, Guide Me.” Read the entry here. "Let Us Love One Another during Holy Week" was published in the April 6, 1990, issue of the Mississippi Catholic of the diocese of Jackson, Mississippi. It sill speaks today.

 

 

  • February 2012 – Black History Month - Soul Food Sampler/Sister Thea Bowman Sampler
    On Feb. 26, the Soul Food Sampler, long a tradition at St. Peter Claver Parish in St. Paul, Minn., during Black History Month, will be held in conjunction with a very special event in our parish hall following the 10:00 Gospel Choir Mass and Soul Food buffet. We will be having a guest speaker this year. (Many of you will remember the wonderful speakers we had following the inauguration of President Obama at a previous Sampler.) We are excited to have Sister Charlene Smith give a presentation on Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA (1937-1990). Sister Charlene entered the convent at the same time as Sister Thea and co-authored the book Thea’s Song the Life of Thea Bowman.

     

--View photos and read article by Rita Mae Fischer, FSPA, St. Peter Claver Annual Soul Food Sampler.

--View photos and read article by Patricia Tekippe, FSPA, “Soul Food Sampler”

  • The February 5, 2012, issue of Our Sunday Visitor features a four page article on the "History of African American Catholics." The story of African American Catholics is one of discrimination and strife, but ultimately the deep faith of religious and laity alike has prevailed. Sister Thea Bowman is highlighted with African American Converts to Catholicism including Mary Lou Williams and Alex Jones.

 

  • Jan. 16, 2012, issue of the National Catholic Register: The article "Black and Catholic" profiles three black clergymen. One of the men, Josephite Father Anthony Bozeman, lists Sister Thea Bowman as one of his heroes. Read the article here.

 

2011 articles

  • October 31, 2011

     

Tom Thibodeau and the Religious Leadership in a Diverse World seminar group came to the Franciscan Spirituality Center Halloween evening to explore the biography Thea's Song the Life of Thea Bowman. Left photo in the center is author Charlene Smith, FSPA. Second photo shows group learning about the Thea Collection in FSPA Heritage Department.

 

Sister Charlene with Viterbo class

Sister Charlene with Viterbo class in Heritage Dept

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Play at Dominican Shines Light on Sister Thea Bowman

    Darian Garner and Jessica Borne, St. Mary's Dominican High School, students pen a reflection for the Clarion Herald on what it meant to them to be in Mary Queen Donnelly's play, Thea's Turn, Oct. 14-16, 2011, in New Orleans. Read their article here.

 

  • Mary Queen Donnelly, teenage friend of Thea Bowman, wrote Thea's Turn, a play about Thea. It was produced at Xavier University, New Orleans and in Jackson, MS in 2008-2009.

    Thea's Turn is the story of Sister Thea Bowman, an African American Protestant born and raised in the deep South. At age 15, she joins the Franciscan Sisters of Perptual Adoration. an all white Catholic community in La Crosse, Wis. Soon her native culture and the culture of the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church clash. The play depicts how the conflict resolves.

    The weekend of Oct. 14-15-16, 2011, Thea's Turn will be produced in New Orleans, at St. Mary's Dominican High School.

    The play won 2nd place in the national Eudora Welty New Play Series. You might remember in 1990, Mary wrote the popular and often-cited article about Thea's funeral in America Magazine-the first time a black woman ever appeared on their cover.

    For info about the play, the author, the actors, and the music click here.

 

  • Tom Roberts, NCR editor-at-large, new book, The Emerging Catholic Church, Orbis Books, 2011 showcases Thea’s 1989 address to the U. S. Bishops in Chapter One. He ends his book (p. 194) with this perceptive tribute to her:

Perhaps our future vision of heroic priests ought to take its cue from someone like Sr. Thea Bowman, a humble hero who holds a mirror up to our complexity. Sometimes we’ll do things her way, sometimes ours. Thea, great granddaughter of a slave, who understands better than most the messy reality of sin and redemption, of being both out and in, who knows how porous religious borders can be, who can even when dressing us down with a smile, convince us to cross arms and find a common song.

The church, she said, “is a family of families, and the family got to stay together.” And in that family, let no one feel like a motherless child.

  • August 2011 issue of The Priest magazine featured a 4-page article “Thea Bowman: Soulful Mystic” by Victor M. Parachin. Topics included: A Methodist in a Catholic School, Loving Environment, Back Home in Canton and Spiritual Roots. Rev. Parachin, an ordained minister, is a freelance writer and author of several books, including Lessons from the Living From the 23rd Psalm.

 

  • Another award for Thea’s Song the Life of Thea Bowman.

     

More good news from Robert Ellsberg, Publisher, Orbis Books:

The Catholic Press Association has honored Thea's Song with a Second Place Award for Biography: "A unique tone of love pervades this warm and beautiful story of a dynamic black girl who became a religious sister when our church was radically divided, and helped lead us all into a more open, Christ-like church today."

Congratulations! Perfect lead-in to the paperback.

 

 

 

  • On March 10, 2011, the Christophers confirmed that “Thea’s Song” by Charlene Smith and John Feister has been selected to receive a Christopher Award in the Books for Adults category at the 62nd annual Christopher Awards ceremony. The awards will be presented on Thursday evening, May 19, 2011, in New York City. See all winners in full article, "Award Winners Highlight the Power of Faith, Courage and Action."

 

  • Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA (1937-1990) was featured in the Education section of the March 5 through May 22, 2011, Spirited Women of La Crosse exhibit at the Swarthout Museum in La Crosse, Wis. See photos below. The exhibit highlights how a group of independent American women has shaped the La Crosse community in the areas of health care, education and fine arts.

Sister Thea Bowman photo in museum display

FSPA museum exhibit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • In Why Stay Catholic? Unexpected Answers to a Life-Changing Question, national best-selling author Michael Leach offers answers to this question. He introduces inspiring Catholics who can make a big difference in people's faith. Chapter 28 features Sister Thea Bowman.
  • Sister Thea Bowman Catholic Academy is named for Franciscan nun
    It was a day of celebration for the 277 students of the newly formed Sister Thea Bowman Catholic Academy as Bishop David Zubik formally blessed the Wilkinsburg school. The school is a merger (August 2010) of Holy Rosary School in Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood and St. James in Wilkinsburg. Read the Pittsburgh Catholic news article.
  • Speaker focuses on life of nun considered for sainthood

    The Huntington, West Virginia, Herald Dispatch reported that “On Sunday [Feb. 27], St. Peter Claver welcomed Philly-based artist, writer and speaker Michael "Mickey" O'Neill McGrath to share [Sister Thea Bowman’s] legacy.” The full article is available here.
  • "It's black history all year at museum in Canton" Feb. 19, 2011 Clarion Ledger, Jackson, MS.

    The ClarionLedger.com reported that It’s black history month all year at museum in Canton. The article mentions that a portion of the Canton Multicultural Center and Museum honors Sister Thea Bowman, “the first known African-American nun from Canton. Her personal artifacts, clothing and pictures are visible around the museum.” “Sister Thea was very important to me in that she was Catholic and she never forgot her roots," said one museum committee member.
    Read the full article.

     

  • "Who is Sister Thea?" by Vanessa Barnes, Houston, TX

The Gulf Coast Catholic blog included Sister Thea in a February 15, 2011 entry. Author Vanessa Barnes’ entry, Who is Sr. Thea Bowman, describes Sister Thea as a “servant of God and young convert to the Catholic faith best known for energizing the African-American Catholic in America.” Vanessa adds, “I owe a large part of my Catholic tenacity to Sr. Thea as I was blessed to witness in person, her witty, powerful and soulful musings about her faith in God and her love for the Catholic Church. Whenever she was in or near the Houston area I was there. She fed me spiritually at a time when my perception was that people of color were far from ordinary in the Catholic Church. Her presence, her delivery, her faith was infectious; oh how I miss what she shared!
The entry also included a YouTube clip of Sister Thea’s funeral.
Read the full entry.

  • Pharmacy named in honor of Sister Thea
    Duquesne University School of Pharmacy established a Center for Pharmacy Sevices in Pittsburgh's Hill District (low income) at One Hope Square, 1901 Centre Avenue. Named it in honor of Sister Thea Bowman! Dedication Feb. 18th. A large framed print of Houston, TX, artist Tony Bryant's painting of Thea will be hung in the center. A reception immediately followed the dedication.
  • Concert to benefit Thea Bowman House of Prayer
    Heart parish in Camden, NJ is hosting "All Woman Concert" for women and the men who love them -- on Mar. 6th. Proceeds go to Thea Bowman House of Prayer and Women's Spirituality in Camden. Artist Michael McGrath did whimsical poster. (beestill.org). It's on the front page. Several holy gals associated with social justice issues, enjoying tea party -- Mary, Elizabeth, Joan of Arc, Kateri, Therese of Lisieux, Harriet Tubman, et al.
  • What makes a fast-track saint?

Attached is editorial cartoon in Feb 4, 2011, National Catholic Reporter featuring Bowman, Chavez, Day, John XXIII, Romero.

Informative article published in National Catholic Reporter Feb. 4, 2011.
"With beatification of John Paul II, what makes a 'fast-track' saint?"

  • Sister Thea Bowman continues in good company. A Maryknoll Book of Inspiration just off the press by Orbis Books includes two selections from Thea, one for April 1st and another for October 5th.

 

 

2010 articles

 

2009 articles

 

Thea News Archive (pdf files)

Thea News March 2008
Thea News March 2007
Thea News March 2006
Thea News September 2005
Thea News March 2005
Thea News September 2004
Thea News March 2004
Thea News September 2003
Thea News March 2003
Thea News September 2002
Thea News March 2002