Thea Bowman

Thea Bowman was a Roman Catholic nun. She was also the granddaughter of a slave and the daughter of a doctor who was not permitted to practice medicine in the hospital in their hometown in Mississippi because of his race. She became a nun because she was so impressed with the Franciscan Sisters’ work on behalf of African-Americans in Mississippi.

Thea Bowman died of bone cancer in 1990. Before she died, she was invited to speak to a meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. They expected her to give them a nice little talk about race and the church. They didn’t know Sister Thea Bowman.

She began her speech by saying, “Do you know what it means to be a black or a woman in our church today?” She then stepped back from the microphone a bit and sang, with great power, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home.”

She then went on to talk about how the church could be inclusive of all people. Thea Bowman concluded her speech by having all 250 American bishops stand up, hold hands, sway back and forth, and sing together “We Shall Overcome.”

Someone suggested that if Thea Bowman is ever nominated for sainthood that moment will be cited as her miracle.

When she found out she was dying of cancer, she planned her own funeral. She wanted it to be a great celebration, and she requested that somebody read from the writings of Sojourner Truth:

I am not going to die.
I am going home,
Like a shooting star.

Like Sojourner Truth, Thea Bowman lived every day of her life rising. May our Easter resolution be that we will live that way, too.

by Michael Piazza
Center for Progressive Renewal

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