A godly woman, Sister Thea

Lord, let me live until I die.
Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA

Twenty-five year ago today, on March 30, 1990, Sister Thea Bowman, like a shooting star, went home to live with God.

A black member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, Sister Thea lived out a vocation of being an African-American Catholic in a white congregation in a largely white Catholic Church. She preserved African-American traditions and incorporated them into her way of living her Catholic faith, that she had embraced as a ten-year old in 1947.

What does it mean to be black and Catholic? It means that 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 a gift to the Church.

She lived this out in many ways, including co-founding the Institute of Black Catholic Studies at New Orleans’ Xavier University.

But in 1984 she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but still maintained a busy schedule of speaking, finally from a wheel chair as her cancer progressed.

But what really impresses me is how she responded to her suffering and death: “I don’t make sense of suffering. I try to make sense of life.”

I have a good friend dying of cancer. A cousin’s husband is also being treated for cancer. And so I thought of them, and others suffering from cancer, when I read these words of Sister Thea:

When I first found out I had cancer, I didn’t know what to pray for. I didn’t know if I should pray for healing or life or death. Then I found peace in praying for what my folks call “God’s perfect will.” As it evolved, my prayer has become, “Lord, let me live until I die.: By that I mean I want to live, love, and serve fully until death comes. If that prayer is answered…how long really doesn’t matter.

But these are not just words for those suffering or dying. They are words for all of us, fitting words for Holy Week when we recall Jesus who handed over his life in love.

And so, may we pray to God as Sister Thea did:

Lord, let me live until I die.

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