Viterbo University Alumni Magazine June 2000
Thea Fest 2000 A Celebration of Sister Thea Bowman's Life -March 26, 2000
Who was Thea?
Thea, as she was called by many, was known for tirelessly spreading the Gospel through song, dance, and story, and for promoting cross-cultural awareness throughout the country. She so captured the hearts and minds of the world that, since her death, talk of sainthood has surrounded her name.
Born Bertha Bowman in Yazoo City, Miss., Thea was baptized a Catholic in 1947. In 1953 she entered the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration community in La Crosse, Wis., and professed her vows in 1958. After earning her Bachelor of Arts degree at Viterbo College, Thea taught at Blessed Sacrament in La Crosse and Holy Child Jesus Catholic High School in Canton, Miss. She went on to receive her master’s and doctoral degrees from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. She then came back to La Crosse and taught English at Viterbo from 1972-78.
Thea helped found the Institute of Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University in New Orleans, La. and became a popular speaker. She died in 1990 after a six-year struggle with cancer.
Thea on Viterbo...
In March 1989, Sr. Thea Bowman was interviewed as part of Viterbo’s centennial celebration. The following reflections from Sr. Thea on Viterbo are excerpts from that interview.
• “I remember the motto ‘Goodness, Wisdom, Knowledge. Teach me, oh Lord!’ I remember Viterbo as a place where my teachers were very dedicated and they shared a love for learning...School was a place to go to enjoy life. I remember my classmates going around studying chemistry and physics and some of these more vigorous disciplines and I was a student of the English language individual with a minor in drama and I was just having fun. I loved literature and I met teachers who were able to help me open the books. I met some teachers who realized that I had some gifts and that was something that had never occurred to me. You know, just to realize that I could do some things...I think, read, write, the basics.”
• “I came back to Viterbo in 1972 as a teacher, full of enthusiasm for teaching, for Viterbo, for learning. And I met some fascinating students who made my life here as a teacher very, very exciting. And I had a good time. I was convinced that literature is an incentive for most people who want to live. That in literature you meet people who will tell you things that your best friends, your closest friends, won’t tell you and you have experiences of life vicariously that prepare you for experiences of life that are real. Experiences of life vicariously that help you to understand the reality that you attempt to live. And that was exciting for me.”
• “As a teacher of the English language and literature and Chair of the English Department, one of my primary objectives was that I should have a good time, that my students should have a good time, and that we should enjoy what we were doing. That was my focus. Got me in trouble sometimes, but that was OK too.”
• “Viterbo was small and Viterbo was family. You knew your teachers, you knew your students. And I think as Viterbo grew and expanded there were people who were dedicated to trying to maintain that kind of family atmosphere... just a real care and concern for your intellectual development, for your professional development, for your human and personal development and to me that’s different from what I’ve met at some other places.”
• “And they (students) were always pinching pennies. I don’t know if they all do that...do they still do that? Trying to make it on a shoestring? Well, that’s St. Francis. Dependin’ on the Lord to get you through and get you over.”
• “There’s a certain craziness that’s Franciscan, one of abandon, joie de vivre, and I think that was part of Viterbo. People took time to laugh and they took time to play and they took time to cry—sometimes together. And it wasn’t an isolated thing…I think at the time when I was here, you know, faculty and students and students and administration—there was a kind of closeness, a kind of love that to me is Franciscan.”