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Already considered a saint by those whose lives she touched, Sister Thea Bowman will be honored in Oak Cliff on Saturday, October 15, 2016. There is hope among many Catholics that the Church will begin the formal process of canonizing her. Photo credit: FSPA Archives, La Crosse WI. Background art: “This Little Light of Mine,” Bro. Michael O’Neill McGrath

Holy Cross Catholic Church To Unveil a Portrait, Bronze Memorial Plaque

The public is invited to attend the celebration and Mass in her honor

Holy Cross Catholic Church in Dallas will celebrate the life of Sister Thea Bowman with storytelling, testimonials, music, a portrait unveiling, and the dedication of a bronze memorial plaque in honor of the African-American nun who left a lasting mark on the congregation.

An orator, singer, preacher, evangelist, the celebration of her life will take place on Saturday, October 15 at 3:30 p.m., followed by Mass at 5:00 p.m. The church is located at 5004 Bonnie View Rd., Dallas, TX 75241.

Sister Anita Baird, DHM, a long-time friend of Sister Bowman, will speak at the Mass. A Mass setting composed by Dr. Aaron Mathews in Sister Bowman’s honor will be debuted at the Mass. And Sister Roberta Fulton, S.S.M.N., also a friend of Sister Bowman, will present a program to the children of Holy Cross Parish.

Sister Bowman was a nationally known orator, singer, preacher and evangelist until her death in 1990 at the age of 52. She visited Holy Cross Parish and other Dallas area churches several times in the 1980s and so endeared herself to Holy Cross parishioners that they named the parish hall after her. She often enlisted the Holy Cross choir to accompany her at other engagements in the area.

“Sister Thea spoke up at a time when African-American Catholics didn’t have a voice,” said Vicki Mathews, a long-time Holy Cross parishioner and choir member. “She inspired us to be proud of our black heritage and the gifts we bring. We started singing more from our traditions and feeling freer about expressing ourselves.”

Born into a Methodist family in Yazoo City, Mississippi in 1937, Sister Thea grew up in nearby Canton. Her parents, Theon and Mary Bowman, named her Bertha. They sent her to Holy Child Jesus Catholic School, staffed by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration from La Crosse, Wisconsin. With her parents’ permission she joined the Catholic Church when she was nine years old.

She decided to join her teachers’ religious order as a teen, but her parents opposed it. Eventually they relented and allowed her to go. Theon and Mary later joined the Catholic Church themselves.

At that time, women entering the convent were given new names. Bertha requested and received the name Thea.

After taking vows her religious order sent her on to earn master’s and doctorate degrees in English literature and linguistics at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Sister Bowman taught in parochial schools and at Viterbo University in La Crosse. In 1978, she returned to Mississippi to care for her aging parents. While there, Bishop Joseph Brunini of the Diocese of Jackson recruited her to develop outreach from the diocese to minority communities and to help create intercultural awareness among all races.

Her ministry grew and attracted national attention. Soon she was in demand to speak to congregations of all races and traveled around the United States and to several foreign nations.

Sister Bowman was also an expert on William Faulkner. “Faulkner taught me to appreciate my state, both the glory and the shame of it,” she said. “He helped me to understand white folks, their ways of thinking and feeling and responding.” She attended the first annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference at the University of Mississippi in 1974 and every year after until her death. She challenged the attendees understanding of black people with word and song. 

In the mid-1980s, Sister Bowman contracted breast cancer that spread to her bones. She continued to travel, sing and preach as long as she could, even after she was confined to a wheelchair. She died at home on March 30, 1990. Though she is already considered a saint by those whose lives she touched, there is fervent hope among many Catholics that the Church will begin the formal process of canonizing her.

Holy Cross Catholic Church is recognized as the African-American Catholic parish in Dallas. The congregation was ethnically Czech and Irish when the

parish was founded in 1956. However, the assignment of a black priest, Father William Lane, in 1961 drew black Catholics from all over Dallas to the Southern Dallas Parish. The parish became active in the civil rights movement and in the betterment of the surrounding community.

In the 1980s, Holy Cross declared itself a sanctuary church for refugees fleeing from the civil war in El Salvador. The Rev. Timothy Gollob has been pastor of Holy Cross since 1969.

For More information contact: Lari Newman-Williams, 214.374.7614 or theabcelebration@gmail.com

Holy Cross Catholic Church Address:

5004 Bonnie View Rd, Dallas, TX 75241

(214) 374-7614

 

Article by Judy Porter, judy-porter@sbcglobal.net

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