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May 3, 2022

Sister Thea Bowman

Faithful Life, Powerful Legacy, Continuing Lessons

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Georgetown University recently named the chapel in Copley Hall the Servant of God Sr. Thea Bowman Chapel of St. William. Why? Who was Sr. Thea, and what lessons does her life, legacy, and continuing challenge to resist racism offer at this time of racial reckoning in the United States?

Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, was a Catholic religious sister, scholar, singer, and teacher. Raised in a small Mississippi town, she converted to Catholicism at the age of 12 and later joined the Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration. Sister Thea lived out her Catholic faith and African American identity through her ministry of evangelization, education, and action for justice.

This Dahlgren Dialogue examined Sr. Thea’s continuing challenge for the Catholic Church, the United States, and all of us to resist racism and welcome the gifts, leadership, and impatience for justice of African Americans.

John Carr, co-director of the Initiative, moderated the dialogue. Fr. Mark Bosco, S.J., vice president for Mission & Ministry, opened the dialogue. In the tradition of Sr. Thea, Minister Brandon J. Felder, director of the Georgetown University Gospel Choir, led us in song.

Four distinguished leaders came together to explore these and other questions:

  • How can U.S. Catholics learn from the faithful life, powerful legacy, and continuing lessons of this “woman of lively, living faith, truly Black and authentically Catholic”?
  • How has the Church learned from, and failed to heed, Sr. Thea’s call to “walk and talk and work and play and stand together in Jesus’ name” in order to “overcome the poverty, overcome the loneliness, overcome the alienation, and build together a Holy city, a new Jerusalem, a city set apart where they’ll know that we are here because we love one another”?
  • How can Georgetown University, this capital city of Washington, DC, and our nation take up Sr. Thea’s continuing challenge to resist racism and change structures to pursue racial justice at this time of testing for the United States? 
  • How have recent developments, positive and negative, called each of us to take up Sr. Thea’s call to work for a more inclusive Church and just nation? What would Sr. Thea sing or say to us now at this moment of racial divisions and reckoning in our society and community of faith?

Resources

View a list of articles, statements, videos, and other resources for this dialogue.

Georgetown’s Dahlgren Dialogues, co-sponsored by the Office of Mission & Ministry and the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, are a series of substantive conversations with experienced leaders in the context of prayerful reflection on current topics at the intersection of faith and public life.​

Photo credit: Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration

Participants

Ogechi Akalegbere

Ogechi Akalegbere

Ogechi Akalegbere is the 2021 winner of the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and the Christian service coordinator at Connelly School of the Holy Child.

Sr. Patricia Chappell, SNDdeN

Sr. Patricia Chappell, SNDdeN

Sr. Patricia Chappell, SNDdeN is the moderator of the leadership team for the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur U.S. East-West Province. She is the former president of the National Black Sisters' Conference and the former executive director of Pax Christi USA.

Cardinal Wilton Gregory

Cardinal Wilton Gregory

Cardinal Wilton Gregory is the archbishop of Washington and the former president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).