Sr. Thea Bowman was an African-American Franciscan sister whose cause for sainthood was recently opened. New Group Media produced a documentary on her life called Going Home Like a Shooting Star: Thea Bowman’s Journey to Sainthood, which began airing on ABC affiliates nationwide in October 2022.
The Inspiration Behind the Documentary on Sr. Thea Bowman
The film was written and produced by Sr. Judith Zelinski, a Franciscan sister who works for New Group Media. She spoke about the murder of George Floyd prompting her to create this documentary. She recalls watching the news coverage about George Floyd: “[It] really touched me. I am a writer, a story-teller. What can we do next? Thea Bowman came to the forefront.”
Sr. Judith Zelinski said, “I am hoping that people are touched by her message and can connect the dots to what is going on in our country today. We are so polarized and so fearful and so worried about people who are not ‘our tribe.’ I am hoping this [documentary] spurs some energy in the Church to speak out more about racism.”
Sr. Thea Bowman’s cause for canonization was opened in 2018 with Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz of Jackson, Mississippi, being the petitioner. The diocese of Jackson wrote a prayer so that people could ask for Sr. Thea’s intercession to further her cause for sainthood.
Part of this prayer states, “For in turbulent times of racial injustice, she sought equity, peace, and reconciliation. In times of intolerance and ignorance, she brought wisdom, awareness, unity, and charity. In times of pain, sickness, and suffering, she taught us how to live fully until called home to the land of promise.”
Inspired? We are, too. Here are four things you should know about this great Black Catholic woman:
1. Sr. Thea Bowman was a singer, story-teller, teacher, and advocate for social justice.
She wanted the Church to embrace the breadth and depth of African-American culture and spirituality. She combined all of her talents and gifts to teach others about the beauty of her heritage and how the Church was enriched by this heritage, as well.
2. She staged a hunger strike to convince her parents to let her become a religious sister.
When Thea Bowman was fifteen years old, she told her parents that she wanted to join the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. Her parents were skeptical (as the parents of most teenagers would be). Thea Bowman decided to stage a hunger strike to prove her commitment and devotion. Her parents relented and let her move to La Cross, Wisconsin to join this religious order.
3. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1984.
Following the deaths of her parents, Sr. Thea Bowman was diagnosed with breast cancer. She vowed to not let this stop her from fighting for racial justice and inclusion in the Church, continuing her speaking engagements and even appearing on 60 Minutes.
She ultimately died of breast cancer in 1990 and asked that her gravestone say, “She tried.” She wanted the world to know that despite the challenges she faced, she tried her best to love the Lord and His people.
4. She was the first African-American woman to speak to the United States Conference of Bishops.
In 1989, Sr. Thea Bowman was asked to address the entire USCCB on being Black and Catholic. Despite being weakened from cancer, bald from chemotherapy, and in a wheelchair, she felt called to deliver this address.
She spoke to them and said, “What does it mean to be Black and Catholic? It means that I come to my Church fully functioning. That doesn’t frighten you, does it? I come to my Church fully functioning. I bring myself; my Black self, all that I am, all that I have, all that I hope to become. I bring my whole history, my traditions, my experience, my culture, my African-American song and dance and gesture and movement and teaching and preaching and healing and responsibility – as gifts to the Church.” Archbishop Wilton, one of the USCCB members that was present for her address, is featured in the documentary.
Want to learn more? Watch Going Home Like a Shooting Star: Thea Bowman’s Journey to Sainthood, available (for free!) on the Franciscan sister’s website.