Skip to content

Sister Thea Bowman Week kicks off Sunday, ahead of dedication for new center at Viterbo University

Servant of God Thea Bowman's feast day has become an occasion for extended celebration, with her alma mater hosting a week of events and the dedication of a new legacy center.

(Viterbo University/YouTube)

LA CROSSE, Wis. — The inaugural Sr Thea Bowman Celebration Week will begin tomorrow in Wisconsin, with a slate of events scheduled at Viterbo University—Bowman’s alma mater and former teaching post—in anticipation of her March 30th feast day and the opening of a new center on campus dedicated to her legacy.

“The Sr Thea Bowman Center celebrates the life and legacy of Thea Bowman, FSPA, as a hub for inclusivity and equity teachings,” the university website reads.

“A pioneer for justice and equality, Sr. Thea dedicated her life to advocacy for human rights for all people. This center highlights all the gifts she treasured, including education, spirituality, equal rights, music, literature, and art.”

The event series kicks off on Sunday morning with a Mass at the university’s San Damiano Chapel, featuring music composed by Bowman, who played an integral role in the introduction of Black patrimony to the Catholic Church.

She died in 1990 from cancer at the age of 52, but not before becoming a household name in Catholic circles and elsewhere, at one point appearing on “60 Minutes” with Mike Wallace.

The Mississippi native and Catholic convert joined the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration 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, gaining her the title “Servant of God” and making her perhaps the only venerated Catholic whose voice and music can be heard on CDs and streaming platforms.

Following Sunday’s Mass, a concert will follow at 2pm CT, featuring local choirs as well as Aaron Mathews, a Black composer whose “Mass for Sister Thea Bowman” was released last year.

Simultaneously, the DC chapter of the Bowman guild will host a virtual celebration of her life and legacy with her sainthood cause’s vice postulator Fr Maurice Nutt, CSsR. (Registration is required.)

Monday will bring a panel of artists, including Mathews and painter Br Mickey McGrath, who will discuss the impact of Bowman’s art. Tuesday will feature a number of events for the Viterbo community before a 7pm panel from individuals who knew Bowman personally.

These include Laura Nettles and Mary Ann Gschwind, Bowman’s fellow FSPA sisters; Viterbo alum Dr. Greg Lind; and Daniel Johnson-Wilmot, a professor in the school’s music department.

The dedication of the Sr Thea Bowman Center will occur on her Wednesday feast day at 4pm—followed by a reception and a livestreamed ceremony featuring Black Catholic keynote speaker Nola Jo Starling-Ratliff, musical performances, and a student awards ceremony for the Diocese of La Crosse.

The website for the week’s events also lists a Thursday event on the Catholic heroes of the Holocaust, and an environmental justice event on Friday at noon.

Also part of the celebration is a staging on April 5th of “Sr. Thea Bowman: I Will Live Until I Die”, a one-woman play featuring internationally-known Black Catholic speaker and recording artist ValLimar Jansen. That event is scheduled for 7pm, also in the university chapel.

For more information on the week’s events, interested parties can contact Nettles at or 608-796-3706.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

Want to support our work? You have options.

a.) click to give on Donorbox

b.) click to give on Facebook