Collection: Sr. Thea Bowman

ARTIST: Julie Lonneman


At the age of 9, after requesting permission from her Methodist parents, Bertha Bowman joined the Catholic Church, and at 15 became a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, following in the footsteps of the teachers she loved. She took the name “Thea”, meaning “of God.”

After receiving degrees in English, drama and speech, Sister Thea went on to earn masters and doctoral degrees. She taught for 16 years at the elementary, secondary and university level. Part of that time she worked with Native Americans in Wisconsin. She identified with their status outside of the dominant culture.

Later, as a consultant for intercultural awareness, Sister Thea gave presentations across the country, always engaging the participants with her intelligence, charisma, and beautiful voice. In these joyful gatherings Sister Thea sought to break down racial and cultural barriers through singing, gospel preaching, prayer and storytelling.

In 1990, breast cancer claimed the life of the 52-year-old nun. She had continued to lead her gatherings from a wheelchair as her disease painfully metastasized to her bones. Despite her suffering, Sister Thea truly “lived until she died” as she had vowed.

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Sister Thea Bowman, a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, lived life with hope, love and justice.


Born December 29, 1937, in Yazoo City, Miss., Thea was reared as a Methodist until at age nine when she asked her parents if she could become a Catholic.


Gifted with a brilliant mind, beautiful voice and a dynamic personality, Sr. Thea shared the message of God's love through a teaching career. After 16 years of teaching, at the elementary, secondary and university level, the bishop of Jackson, Miss., invited her to become the consultant for intercultural awareness.


In her role as consultant Sr. Thea, an African-American, gave presentations across the country; lively gatherings that combined singing, gospel preaching, prayer and storytelling. Her programs were directed to break down racial and cultural barriers. She encouraged people to communicate with one another so that they could understand other cultures and races.


In 1984, Sr. Thea was diagnosed with breast cancer. She prayed "to live until I die." Her prayer was answered, and Thea continued her gatherings seated in a wheelchair. In 1989, the U.S. bishops invited her to be a key speaker at their conference on Black Catholics. At the end of the meeting, at Thea's invitation, the bishops stood and sang "We Shall Overcome" with gusto.


Thea lived a full life. She fought evil, especially prejudice, suspicion, hatred and things that drive people apart. She fought for God and God's people until her death in 1990.


Born: December 29, 1937


Died: March 30, 1990 Bone Cancer


—Excerpts from “Sister Thea Bowman", Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration