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Musical on Servant of God Thea Bowman to headline commemorative week in Wisconsin

Black Catholic multidisciplinary artist ValLimar Jansen will perform at Viterbo University, Bowman's alma mater in La Crosse.

(Viterbo University)

Viterbo University, the alma mater of Servant of God Thea Bowman, will host a musical on her life later this month on campus in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

It will serve as the closing event of the annual Sr Thea Bowman Celebration Week, now in its second year at the school where the famed Black Catholic saint-to-be once learned and taught.

The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, who run the university and counted Bowman among their members, will host ValLimar Jansen to perform the musical on March 30—Bowman’s feast day—in the school’s Fine Arts Center.

“International speaker, storyteller, composer and recording artist ValLimar Jansen returns to La Crosse to tell the story of Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration Thea Bowman’s life with great passion and joy,” the event description reads.

“Sister Thea gave the world so many vivid examples of how to live in unity and peace and how to face death with purpose, grace and dignity.”

The musical is one of several one-act plays created by Jansen, a California-based Black Catholic artist who first began her ministry in 1994. Her repertoire includes shows on the life of Bowman, as well as the Catholic singer and actress Ethel Waters.

Jansen has sung professionally since childhood, and her recording career spans more than two decades with her husband Frank Jansen. Her past collaborators include a number of notable Catholic artists, including Matt Maher, Dan Schutte, Bob Hurd, and Sarah Hart.

Her voice can also be heard on various Black Catholic gospel albums, including both entries in OCP’s “Psalms from the Soul” series and GIA’s 2003 anthology “Catholic Classics, Vol. 7: African American Sacred Songs.” On the latter, she was a featured soloist on the late James E. Moore Jr.’s perennial hymn “Taste and See.”

Jansen is also a well-known public speaker and is currently touring with a separate one-woman show promoting six of the African-American Catholics on the path to sainthood, including Bowman.

Bowman herself, a Mississippi native and childhood convert to Catholicism, joined the FSPA sisters in the 1960s at the age of 15, becoming the congregation’s first Black member and later a noted activist, speaker, liturgist, and evangelist. Her cause for canonization was opened in 2018 by the Diocese of Jackson, gaining her the title “Servant of God.”

The musical at Viterbo on her life is free of charge and will begin at 7pm CT. For more information, contact Sr Laura Nettles, FSPA, at or (608) 796-3706.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger and a seminarian with the Josephites.

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