July 29, 2021

Sister Thea Bowman and the Catholic Church

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There have been countless stories told about this extraordinary woman who left a lasting mark on Catholicism.

There have been countless stories told about this extraordinary woman who left a lasting mark on Catholicism. Evangelist, scholar, and teacher, Sister Thea Bowman, accomplished a great deal during her lifetime, and she is well known for her ministry to African Americans within the Catholic church.

From a very young age, Thea’s faith had always played a big part in her life. After getting permission from her parents, she converted to the Roman Catholic faith at nine years old. While a teenager, she joined the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and became the first African American member.

In her adulthood, she reached hundreds upon hundreds of people and shared her love of Catholicism to people from all walks of life.

From Nigeria to New York, Sister Thea could be found giving inspirational talks to different communities, encouraging them to hold fast to their traditions, learn about cultures different from their own, and also explore a relationship with Jesus Christ.

It has been said that Thea had such a way with words,  was so charismatic, and her love of her faith ran so deep, that her presence was unlike anything anyone’s ever felt.

In his book, Hope Sings, So Beautiful: Graced Encounters Across the Color Line, Christopher Pramuk, theologian, musician, and spiritual writer at Regis University, said the following about Thea:

“Arguably no person in recent memory did more to resist and transform the sad legacy of segregation and racism in the Catholic Church than Thea Bowman.”

On November 14, 2018, the U.S. Bishops canonized Sister Thea for all the great work she’d done within the Catholic faith.  She was a catalyst for change, love, and acceptance, and placed God first in all that she did.

“God is present in everything. In the universe, in creation, in me and all that happens to me, in my brothers and sisters, in the church – everywhere.”

– Thea Bowman

Following her death in 1990, Thea left many legacies, such as the Sister Thea Bowman Foundation and the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center.

She also had numerous institutions named after her, like the Thea Bowman Leadership Academy in Gary, Indiana and the Sister Thea Bowman Catholic School in Jackson, Mississippi.

Sister Thea Bowman will forever be remembered for the contributions she’s made to the Catholic church. The bridge she’s built has helped link African Americans to the world of Catholicism, and it remains strong as more people are finding houses of worship within their communities. 

I recommend visiting the St. Alphonsus Liguori “Rock” Catholic Church in St. Louis if you’d like to learn more about a diverse congregation making moves in their city.

Watch Sr. Thea’s Address to U.S. Bishops below!

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