The Board of Directors of the Sr. Thea Bowman Black Catholic Educational Foundation today announced the appointment of a Catholic educator who has empowered inner-city youth with the gift of Catholic education to serve as its next executive director. Joseph T. Barker II, of Atlanta, will assume his new position effective today, March 1, following the retirement of Mary Lou Jennings who established the Foundation with the late Sr. Thea Bowman 32 years ago.

Getting to Know our New Executive Director

Thea Bowman Foundation Executive Director 2021 Joseph Barker II

Thea Bowman Foundation Executive Director Joseph Barker II

“Joseph Barker possesses a keen awareness and understanding of the African-American experience and obstacles some in the community encounter in their pursuit of a college degree,” said Board President and Assumption University President Francesco C. Cesareo, Ph.D. “By embracing the mission of the Foundation, complemented by a deep devotion to his Catholic faith, Joseph will continue to transform underserved communities. Through his new ministry in Catholic education, Joseph will positively impact the lives of African-American students by providing them access to a college education. His extensive volunteer service demonstrates a commitment to his faith, Catholic education, and community.”

Barker, who has demonstrated a personal and professional commitment to the advancement of Catholic education in underserved communities, will lead and manage the organization’s operational, fiscal, administrative, programmatic, and strategic functions in concert with the Foundation’s mission.  He will lead and oversee four core components that are fundamental to the work of the Foundation: educational programs, spiritual formation, mentoring, and fundraising.

“My ministry has been inspired by the life and work of Sr. Thea Bowman, specifically her legacy to provide African-American children the opportunity to benefit from a Catholic education,” said Barker. “Through Catholic education and sharing the good news of the Gospel, we can help these students change the narrative of their lives and lift them out of poverty. The inspiring message of Sr. Thea endures, specifically her unapologetic pride as a Black Catholic. I look forward to embracing the plan that God has put before me by continuing the ministry of Sr. Thea and Mary Lou in providing opportunity, support and hope to African-American children.”

One of Barker’s first projects will be to develop and implement a program that will support the transition from high school to college for the incoming class of students and a Catholic African-American formation program that will provide support to students throughout the academic year. His responsibilities also include serving as a resource to the students in the program assisting with course selection and advising.

Barker offers more than 20 years of experience in education and fostering mutually beneficial community relationships, including his work laying the foundation to establish a Cristo Rey High School in Charlestown, SC. The Cristo Rey Network is the only network of high schools in the country that integrate four years of rigorous college preparatory academics with four years of professional work experience through the Corporate Work- Study Program. In planning for the high school, Barker worked to secure a religious sponsor for the school, raised funds to establish the new school, conducted market research relative to its viability, and secured work-study opportunities for its students. He has also served as an admissions director and biology teacher at the Cristo Ray Atlanta Jesuit High School.

Barker has served on the boards of The Black Man Lab; Unbound International Outreach Program; Aquinas Center for Theology (Emory University); and Westside Charter School. He has also served as a consultant and mentor for Next Level Boys Academy; deputy director of education for Alpha Phi Alpha, Eta Lambda Chapter; and chair and area deputy zone 7 Knights and Ladies of St. Peter Claver Catholic Center.

He will complete his master’s degree in theological studies from Spring Hill College this spring and holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Florida A&M University and a certificate in Ignatian Leadership Seminars from Regis University.

Sr. Thea Bowman Black Catholic Educational Foundation Board Offers its Gratitude to Mary Lou Jennings for More than 30 Years of Service

Sister Thea Bowman Black Catholic Education Foundation Pittsburgh Dinner 2018

Founder Mary Lou Jennings (right) with Pittsburgh Radio Personality and Foundation Supporter Lynne Hayes-Freeland (left)

Jennings, who is retiring from her service as executive director of the Foundation, met Sr. Thea Bowman in 1984. She traveled to Mississippi, where Sr. Thea showed Jennings the extreme poverty in which African-American families lived. “Sr. Thea shared that these children would never rise above poverty without a Catholic education,” recalled Jennings. Sr. Thea appealed to Jennings to join her in providing opportunities to lift African-American children out of poverty through the gift of a Catholic education. She helped Sr. Thea create the Foundation, and then spent more than three decades leading the Foundation that bears Sr. Thea’s name and transforming the lives of more than 150 African-American students.

Sister Thea Bowman Black Catholic Education Foundation Pittsburgh Dinner 2018

Jennings Speaks at 2019 Thea Bowman Foundation Scholarship Dinner

“Sr. Thea was passionate about the transformational opportunities provided to African-American children by Catholic education,” said Jennings. “Sr. Thea knew that opportunities for equal education could empower African-American Catholic children.  I am blessed to have known and worked with Sr. Thea to establish this Foundation that bears her name and humbled by her legacy manifested in the Sr. Thea Scholars who have earned a college degree through the support of the Foundation. I offer my prayers and full support to all of the Sr. Thea Scholars and Joseph Barker who will continue Sr. Thea’s ministry to provide African-American Catholic children equal access to educational opportunity.”

Jennings received an honorary degree from Assumption University in 2017 for her commitment to furthering the lives of African-American youth through Catholic education.

“For more than 30 years, Mary Lou has worked tirelessly to advance the Foundation,” President Cesareo added. “This life-long vocation to serving African-American students and providing to them educational opportunities has transformed hundreds of lives, creating a new generation of African-American leaders in law, medicine, business and more. I, and the Board, are incredibly grateful to Mary Lou, her ministry, and commitment to the students she formed as leaders through their pursuit of a degree from a Catholic college or university.”

2019 Sister Thea Bowman Scholarship Dinner Mary Lou with Several Current Scholarship Recipients

Jennings Stands with Several Scholarship Recipients at the 2019 Sister Thea Bowman Scholarship Dinner