Sister Thea Bowman, a descendant of enslaved grandparents, who took the initiative to ﬁght for the rights of African Americans in the Catholic Church, died of cancer in 1990 at the age of 52.
The U.S. bishops unanimously endorsed her cause for sainthood during their Nov. 14, 2018 assembly in Baltimore, Md.
“THROUGHOUT HER LIFE, SISTER THEA PIONEERED THE RIGHTS OF AFRICAN AMERICANS IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND REFUSED TO ACCEPT THE RACIAL INJUSTICES SHE WITNESSED WITHIN HER COMMUNITY.”
The canonization process continues, reports the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.
The religious order said Bowman, who had been the only African American member, “transcended racism to leave a lasting mark on U.S. Catholic life in the late 20th century.”
Sister Thea was born Bertha Elizabeth Bowman in Canton, Miss., in 1937. Raised in a Methodist household, at 9 years old she switched to Catholic faith with the permission of her parents, according to Wikipedia. She didn’t accept the racist injustice during that time, however, and wanted to make a way for future female leaders in the Catholic Church.
In 1965 Sister Thea attended Viterbo College, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, Speech and Drama, according to Boston College.
In 1969, she received a Master of Arts degree in English and in 1972 she received a Ph. D in English Language, Literature, and Linguistics from The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C.
In 1980, Sr. Thea returned to Mississippi to serve as director of Intercultural Awareness for the Diocese of Jackson. According to Viterbo Colleges, she “shared her culture and spirituality by preaching and prayer at upwards of 100 venues across the nation per year.”
She was also a singer, poet, preacher, master teacher, evangelist, and African American catalyst.
She taught at the middle school and high school’s levels. She later became a college professor of English and linguistics at Viterbo College, Catholic University of America, and Xavier University in New Orleans.
The name “Sr. Mary Thea” was given to her in honor of her mother and father, Dr. Leon Bowman, a physician, and Mary Esther Bowman, a teacher. Her name Thea means “God.”
Bowman died March 30, 1990 in the home where she grew up, and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery by her parents and her uncle.
“She fought evil, especially prejudice, suspicion, hatred and things that drive people apart,” wrote Adrienne Curry, director for the Archdiocese of Baltimore Ofﬁce of Black Catholic Ministries, in a Catholic Review article last month titled “Memories of a saint.”
“Throughout her life, Sister Thea pioneered the rights of African Americans in the Catholic Church and refused to accept the racial injustices she witnessed within her community,” Curry said.
“This holy woman is now one of six American Black Catholics who are in the process of canonization.”
More at fspa.org/content/about/sis-