Sister Thea Bowman (1937 - 1990)
Sister Thea Bowman was the first African-American woman to receive an honorary Doctorate in Religion from Boston College.
Sr. Thea Bowman, F.S.P.A., Ph.D., was born in the small rural town of Canton in Central Mississippi. Her grandfather was a slave; her father was a physician and her mother, a teacher. In 1965, Sr. Bowman received a B.A. in English, Speech and Drama from Viterbo College in La Crosse, Wisconsin. In 1969, she received an M.A. in English and in 1972, a Ph.D. in English Language, Literature, and Linguistics; both degrees from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
She had been a teacher in Blessed Sacrament School in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Holy Child Jesus High School in Canton, Mississippi, The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Viterbo College in La Crosse, Wisconsin and the Institute of Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana.
In her position as Consultant for Intercultural Awareness for the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, Sister Thea frequently worked with children to help them grow in awareness of their gifts and of their cultural heritage. Through song, dance, poetry, drama and story, she communicated joy, freedom and pride, using traditional Black teaching techniques that are holistic, participatory and reality focused.
Sister Thea made more than 100 public appearances each year, giving lectures, recitals, short courses, workshops, and conference presentations, spreading the message that people are gifted, that Black is beautiful, and that cross-cultural collaboration enriches both education and living.
In Nigeria, Kenya, Canada, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii, New York to Florida, Mississippi to California, Louisiana to Illinois, thousands of people worked with Sister Thea. She made doers of watchers, made people more aware of their own gifts and potentials, and put races in touch with one another. Her ministry was a ministry of joy.
Sister Thea deservingly received an honorary Doctor of Religion from Boston College in 1989. The following is a citation of a speech conferring her distinctions at the 1989 Boston College Commencement Ceremony.
Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration; charismatic evangelist calling Black Catholics to their rightful place and to the expression of their culture within the church, advocate and consultant for intercultural awareness for the Diocese of Jackson; scholar of English Language and literature expert in the Renaissance and the works of William Faulkner; master teacher whose methodology, rich in Black Community's traditional ways of learning and doing, profoundly touches rural Mississippi school children, university students, and world-wide lecture or concert audiences alike. In the glory of your ministry we witness the Franciscan ideal of joy rendered more radiant by a woman of lively, living faith, truly Black and authentically Catholic. To your lifetime of building the Kingdom of God, preaching the Good News in the language of your people, and reclaiming the virtues and values that are your inheritance, Boston College says an approving "Amen!" and proudly declares you Doctor of Religion.