I will hear what God proclaims; the Lord – for he proclaims peace to his people, and to his faithful ones, and to those who put in him their hope. Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him, glory dwelling in our land. Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven. Psalm 85:9-13
Bertha Elizabeth Bowman was born in Yazoo, Mississippi, in 1937 to Thea Bowman, a physician, and Mary Esther Bowman, a teacher. Bertha’s parents raised her in Canton, Mississippi, where she attended Holy Child Jesus Catholic School. The teachers there were the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and the priests of the parish were Missionaries of the Most Holy Trinity. Both groups inspired Bertha who, at age 9, chose to become a Catholic. By the time she was a teen, Bertha had decided to consecrate her life to God as a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration.
Bertha was the first and only African-American to enter this religious community, and that took extra courage. Dedicating her life to God wholeheartedly, she left the deep South to begin her formation at the Franciscan Motherhouse in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, taking the name Sr. Mary Thea. There, she studied and became many young children’s beloved teacher. Continuing her studies at the Catholic University of America, she earned a doctorate in English and Linguistics and became a professor at Viterbo College (now a university) as well as at several other Catholic institutions of higher learning.
Sr. Thea returned to Mississippi when her elderly parents needed care. There she served the Diocese as Director of the Office of Intercultural Awareness, always reaching out to reconcile, heal, and bring peace while working for justice. In 1984, her parents both died and she was diagnosed with breast cancer. In spite of the cancer’s aggressiveness, she kept up a demanding schedule, making over 100 appearances a year until her health would no longer permit it. Explaining that faith in Jesus was the answer to healing the racial divide, she often broke into song during her presentations.
Finally, Sr. Thea Bowman addressed the Bishops of the United States in 1989, less than a year before she died. She urged the bishops to heal the racism dividing the nation. They all joined arm in arm at the end of her remarks, singing “We Shall Overcome.” She never wavered in her desire to share the joy and peace of the Gospel with all she met. She never stopped working for justice and true reconciliation.
Sr. Thea Bowman is our eighth Ornament of Grace.
Observing the Beautiful Ornaments
In what ways can true faith in Jesus help to heal the racial divide in our country?
How does your daily way of living invite others to encounter our loving God?