Sister Thea Bowman Foundation

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Sister Thea, the granddaughter of slaves, was born in Yazoo City, Mississippi December 29, 1937.  Her parents named her Bertha.  Soon after she was born the family moved to Canton.

When very young this child, impressed by the "olde folks", began a spiritual quest that, at age 9, led her to become a Catholic.  The Next Year her parents enrolled her at Holy Child Jesus School staffed by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. The life and work of the sisters so impressed her that, at 15, she joined them by entering St. Rose Convent, LaCrosse, Wisconsin.  There she was given the name Thea.

After Progressing successfully through the formative years of Religious Life and the academic world, Thea received a doctorate in English literature and linguistics from Catholic University of America.  During these years she developed a deep appreciated for her identity as both an African American and as a Catholic.  As her mission unfolded, she celebrated the gifts of all people and encouraged black Americans to proudly celebrate their own identity.

Blessed with extraordinary talent, she became a poet, a preacher, a master teacher, a vocalist, an evangelist, and an African American catalyst.  Thea eventually returned to Canton and served as director of Intercultural Awareness for the Diocese of Jackson.  She was particularly successful with children and continued working and teaching in the Diocese even after being seriously impaired by cancer.  After regaining a modicum of strength, she was able to travel to distant cities, reviving congregations, both large and small, with her "God-gilded voice sent dancing, swaying, sashaying into our lives.  She was song. She was the joyous Franciscan always."  One who knew her well referred to Thea as the "springtime in everyone's life."

Hers was was the wisdom of the "olde" folks": You walk TOGETHER and you won't get weary.  You might get tired, but you won't get weary."  Exhausted by illness and the service of others Sister Thea died in Canton March 30, 1990.


A Time of Life of Sister Thea's Life


1937 Berth Bowman  is born to Mary Esther (Coleman), a teacher, and Theon Edward Bowman, a doctor in Yazoo City, Mississippi.

1947 Bertha is baptized into the Catholic Church by Father Justin Furman, ST, and makes her first communion.

1953 Bertha enters the Franciscan Sisters’ community in La Crosse, Wisconsin

1955 Having contacted tuberculosis, Bertha spends the year recovering at River Pines Sanatorium in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

1956 She commences her novitiate years, taking the name Sister Thea, which means ‘of God"

1961 Sister Thea teaches English and music at Holy Child Jesus Catholic High School in Canton, Mississippi.

1968 Sister Thea undertakes graduate studies in English at Catholic University in America.

1972 During a summer at Oxford Sister Thea studied and traveled Europe. She began teaching at Vitebro College in La Crosse, were she chairs the English Department, and directs the Hallelujah Singers

1980 Sister Thea helps found the Institute of Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University in New Orleans being a faculty member until 1

1983 Sister Thea received the Brother James Miller, FSC, Award.

1984 In a very difficult year, Sister Thea is diagnosed with Breast Cancer and her parents die, but Sister Thea continues a very active schedule of speaking engagements, teaching, and performing.

1985 Sister Thea travels to Forty-third International Eucharistic Congress in Nairobi, Kenya. Because of Sister Thea good work, she received the Harriet Tubman Award given by the National Black Sisters. She also received Pope John Paul XXIII Award from Viterbo College.

1987 "60 Minutes" aired an interview between Mike Wallace and Sister Thea

1988 Sister Thea received more awards. Regis College, Clarke College, Xavier University (New Orleans), Scared Heart University, College of Our Lady of the Elms, Boston College, Georgetown University, Saint Michael’s College, Marygrove College, Viterbo College and Spring Hill College all gave her an Honorary Doctorate. Governor James Blanchard recognized Sister Thea with the G. Mennen Williams Award. Canton had declared 23 December Sister Thea Bowman Day.

1989 Sister Thea received the U.S. Catholic Award for her undeterred fight for women movement and the Bishop Carroll T. Dozier Award from the Christian Brothers College for her struggle to have peace and justice in the world.

1990 Sister Thea died on March 30; she posthumously received the Laetare Medal from Notre Dame University.


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