Bishop remembers Sister’s patient enthusiasm

By Bishop William Houck
One of my privileges and joyful tasks when I came to Jackson as Auxiliary Bishop in 1979 was to meet, get to know and begin to work closely in ministry with Sister Thea Bowman.  She had received and joyfully accepted at Bishop Brunini’s request, the position of  Director of Intercultural Awareness. She had returned to her native Mississippi in order to help take care of her parents, which she did with dedication and ease. Sister came with what I call joyful faith in her very good friend, Jesus Christ.
Grateful for the faith, she was bouncy and energetic and her commitment to Jesus manifested itself in the opportunity to use her gifts and her unique role as one of the first African American religious sisters in our midst and especially back here in our own diocese.
She ministered well, blessed and gifted with an enthusiastic response to the challenging role – we have to be evangelizers. She was quite a “preacher!” She meant it, but her particular expression was that she did not need authorization to be a “preacher.” She was committed to Jesus Christ and through her baptism she was obliged and privileged to “preach” who Jesus is and what Jesus calls us to be in a very active and committed way of living in the church today.
She particularly brought to all of us an awareness out of faith and love that we are called to know and respect one another, to be willing to live together and share ways of bringing justice, but especially of bringing love and respect for all of our people and for one another. Being black, she especially was concerned with helping all of us live together, understanding one another and bringing the joy of an active Catholic life into prominence in our lives and into the way we live our culture today.
We also found in this woman a combination of patience and perseverance. She was patient in dealing with everyone, especially children and singing groups. She was also persevering in bringing the truth and coming again and again to the realization that we are all made in the image and likeness of God; we are saved by Jesus Christ and He has asked us to learn how to love one another as He has loved us.
I remember when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and she was concerned about making a trip to Africa for a very important conference. I urged her to make that trip and she did.  For a while she had a bit of remission but then the cancer came back and took her life tragically. She made an impression on so many people as she traveled in our diocese but especially even outside the diocese bringing the truth of love for one another with respect and bringing justice into this life both in our country and our church and the way we live together.
It is indeed a blessing that the Lord gave her to us for some time to be in our midst and to use the gifts of her faith, her energy, her personality, her joyful psalm of life, her ability to sing, but her call to us to be both persevering and patient.
I had the privilege of visiting with her warmly the evening before she died. She was committed to the Lord she loved and she was again asking us to continue that work of patient perserverance to bring about justice, love, truth and forgiveness.  She came to understand  what the faith meant and as the Lord called her to her heavenly reward, the Christian burial liturgy was one that was well planned and a magnificent display as so many gathered around the country here in Jackson for the joyful return of her to the Lord.
(Bishop William Houck is the retired bishop of the Diocese of Jackson.)