About Sister Thea Bowman

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

Although Thea was baptized Episcopalian and raised Methodist, she had an avid curiosity for all religions. 

"But once when I went to the Catholic church, my wanderings ceased. I knew I had found that for which I had been seeking," she wrote. She was baptized Catholic and made her first communion at age 9.

When she was 12, her parents enrolled her at Holy Child Jesus Catholic School, which was run by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration from Wisconsin. The life and work of the sisters so impressed her that, at age 15, she joined them by entering St. Rose Convent in LaCrosse, Wis., where she was given the name Thea. 

Key Dates in Thea's Life

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 appreciation 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 particularly enjoyed working with children and continued teaching in the Diocese even after being seriously impaired by cancer. Despite herillness, she traveled 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 the wisdom of the “old folks,” the elders of her community: "You walk TOGETHER and you won’t get weary. You might get tired, but you won’t get weary.” Sister Thea died in Canton on March 30, 1990.