The legacy of Sister Thea Bowman embodies the generosity, inclusivity, and unconditional respect for human life that the Sr. Thea Bowman Center for Women strives to promote on the Siena College campus. Regarded as a saint, Sister Thea's ideology and actions inform the way in which the Bowman Center educates the Siena community about gender equity and human rights. Throughout her life, Sister Thea pioneered the rights of African-Americans in the Catholic church and refused to accept the racial injustices that she witnessed within her community, paving the way for future female leaders.
Born on December 29, 1937, in Yazoo City, Mississippi, Bertha "Thea" Bowman was raised in a segregated community, initially going to African-American secondary school before her family moved her to a private school run by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. It was the education she received there that convinced her to covert to Catholicism, become a Sister herself, and dedicate her life to the advancement of those in need.
After becoming a Sister, Thea Bowman went on to receive her doctoral degree at Viterabo University and began a life of teaching in both college classrooms and religious settings. Advocating for a focus on social justice in the Church and the reclamation of African-American religious identity, Sister Thea struggled tirelessly against the racism she faced in her own community, as well as the prejudice she encountered from the clergy, especially as a woman of color. In fact, she helped found the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University and has, since then, been called "a Servant of God."
In 1984, Sister Thea was diagnosed with breast cancer. This hurdle could not slow her down, however, leading her to declare that "I'll live until I die." Following her diagnosis, Sister Thea continued to travel the United States and speak to crowds, primarily about the importance of accepting one another and embracing the unique role of African-American identity in Catholicism. Her refusal to become a victim is certainly one of her most amazing and inspiring traits. Through her example, she changed the way people see the world.
The following links provide more information on Sister Thea's many accomplishments:
- Sister Thea Bowman Foundation
- Going Home Like a Shooting Star: Thea Bowman's Journey to Sainthood
- Thea Bowman: In My Own Words by Maurice J. Nutt
- Sister Thea Bowman Catholic School
- Sister Thea speaking to the U.S. bishops about the importance of her African-American identity
- The Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier College