Sister Thea Bowman
The granddaughter of slaves, Bertha Bowman (1937-1990) was born in rural Mississippi, raised Methodist, but baptized Catholic at age ten. When she was sixteen, Bertha entered the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration community and became the only African-American in the white order. Sister Thea Bowman said, "I bring my whole history, my traditions, my experience, my culture, my African-American song and dance and gesture and movement and teaching, and preaching and healing and responsibility as a gift to the Church."
Thea received Master's and doctorate degrees and taught in elementary schools through university classes. After sixteen years of teaching, a bishop asked Thea to serve as a consultant for intercultural awareness. She made over one hundred public appearances each year, encouraging appreciation for and cooperation between all racial/ethnic groups. She inspired countless African-Americans to share their gifts and leadership with a wide faith community. Some called her "Mother Teresa with soul."
In 1984 Sister Thea was diagnosed with breast cancer. Even as she battled the disease, Thea continued to speak with vitality and passion until she died on March 30, 1990.
Sister Thea Bowman is currently being considered for official sainthood.
Image is Thea Bowman pictured in 1985 photo. (CNS photo/Beatrice Njemanze, Mississippi Catholic)