Celebrating Black History Month: Sr. Thea Bowman

February 7, 2022

Celebrating Sister Thea Bowman

Sister Thea Bowman, a trailblazer leader and activist in her own right, was a Black Catholic sister born on December 29th, 1937 in Yazoo City and raised in Canton Mississippi. According to the website dedicated to cataloging Thea's life and legacy. she

"... was exposed to the richness of her African-American culture and spirituality, most especially the history, stories, songs, prayers, customs, and traditions. Moreover, she was cognizant that God loved and provided for the poor and the oppressed. Her community instructed her, 'If you get, give—if you learn, teach.'"

Although Sister Thea was raised in the Protestant Church, she became invested in the ways in which the Catholic Church approached the community. She appreciated the love that Catholics seemingly poured into each other and other marginalized groups. Her website discusses the meaning of her name, Thea means "God." At her profession, she was given the name “Sister Mary Thea” in honor of the Blessed Mother and her father, Theon. 

Throughout her life, Sister Thea worked tirelessly as a teacher and advocate for civil rights. The 1960s brought a wave of social and political protest and change and Thea was active during this period. Her website outlines her advocacy, stating

"She emphasized that cultural awareness had, as a prerequisite, intentional mutuality. She was eager to learn from other cultures but also wanted to share the abundance of her African-American culture and spirituality. Indeed, Sister Thea became a highly acclaimed evangelizer, teacher, writer, and singer sharing the joy of the Gospel and her rich cultural heritage throughout the nation." 

Sister Thea was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1984. Yet she "vowed to 'live until I die'” and traveled across the nation to speak about Black the history of Black spirituality. Sister Thea would pass away on March 30, 1990, where she was born in Canton Mississippi. Before her passing Sister, Thea instructed that her tombstone state the following:  “I want people to remember that I tried to love the Lord and that I tried to love them…” 

The Thea Bowman Center is located in the Mt. Pleasant community of southeast Cleveland, bordering on Shaker Heights. According to the Center's website,

"It began as a Hunger Center in 1966 under the auspices of Epiphany Catholic Church. The church closed in 2009, but Thea Bowman Center continues to meet pressing needs in a community in which 65% of families live near or below the poverty level. ​As a community anchor, Thea Bowman Center provides a trusting environment in which we promote health and well-being through education and resources."

Sister's Thea life was truly a gift to us all. To read her full biography click here.

Learn more about the Bowman Center in Cleveland, Ohio.


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