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Servant of God Thea Bowman featured in upcoming renamings at Catholic University, Georgetown

America's national Catholic university will honor one of its most famous alums on Friday morning, ahead of a second renaming ceremony at Georgetown the following week.

Bowman, as depicted in the painting "Gladiolus in the Valley. (Vernon Adams)

WASHINGTON — Over the next week in the nation’s capital, two Catholic universities will dedicate new spaces in honor of Servant of God Thea Bowman, a venerated African American known for her commitment to racial justice and Black inculturation.

On Friday, April 28th at 11am ET, the Catholic University of America will unveil Sister Thea Bowman Drive, a roadway that has been under construction as part of the school’s ongoing renovation projects.

The ceremony, announced to faculty and students via email on Tuesday evening, will be held on the front lawn of CUA’s Columbus School of Law and feature as its celebrant Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, alongside a fellow Black Catholic in DC mayor Muriel Bowser.

“An alumna of the University, Sr. Thea Bowman, F.S.P.A., was a renowned evangelist, educator, artist, and advocate for social justice,” the university said.

Bowman, whom the school called “a powerful witness to what it meant to be Black and Catholic”, has been officially under consideration for sainthood in the Catholic Church since 2018, when the US bishops—who own and operate CUA—unanimously voted in favor of the initiative.

She has since received increasing attention at her alma mater and former teaching post, where a recent report on diversity and inclusion at the school was named in her honor.

On Tuesday, May 3rd at 4pm, Georgetown University will host an ecumenical prayer service to rename the worship space in the 90-year-old Copley Hall as the Servant of God Sr. Thea Bowman Chapel of St. William, a space used by the school's Protestant campus ministry.

In addition to St William of Vercelli, whose patronage will remain, the chapel’s original name had also featured an ode to Fr William Cowardin, SJ, a Georgetown alum who fought in the Confederate Army and died in 1925.

The school says the initiative to add the name of a more appropriate figure has been in planning over the past two years, and comes following the chapel’s recently completed renovations.

Bowman herself was a convert to Catholicism from the Black Methodist tradition and served, during the Black Catholic Movement of the late 20th century, as an outlet within Black Catholicism for the patrimony of the largely Protestant ‘Black Church’.

“With the growth of our Protestant community in recent decades and the renovations of the chapel, this was an important moment for us to consider how to best reflect the vibrant and diverse communities of faith that worship in this chapel,” said President John DeGioia in a statement released on Wednesday.

“I look forward to welcoming our community to the Servant of God Sr. Thea Bowman Chapel in the days ahead.”

Cardinal Gregory will again be present for the chapel dedication, alongside representatives from Bowman’s religious order, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. Gregory will also participate in a livestreamed panel on Bowman at 6pm in the university’s Dahlgren Chapel of the Sacred Heart.

Back in the Franciscan Sisters’ home state of Wisconsin, the order’s flagship university, Viterbo University in La Crosse, renamed its campus ministry center after Bowman this year on her feast day, March 30th.

In July, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee will partner with Habitat for Humanity to bless the Sr. Bowman House, which will house a low-income family in the city’s predominantly Black Harambee neighborhood.

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).

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