By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
Earlier this month on Oct. 2, the documentary film “Going Home Like a Shooting Star: Thea Bowman’s Journey to Sainthood” was released for public edification and inspiration both in the church and beyond to all Christians and people of goodwill who long for something better for all of God’s children. It is a dynamic nearly hour-long presentation of the life of Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA – the times in which she lived, her impact during her lifetime, and now more than ever her witness in the present and deep into the future.
It’s a time of great joy for the Diocese of Jackson as we celebrate the life of this religious woman whose story is a remarkable journey of faith. Sister Thea is officially a Servant of God, the first stage for those who are blessed to be on the path to canonization in the Catholic Church. This is a steep climb that follows the narrow road that the church has established for those set apart as faithful disciples who were extraordinary in their walk with the Lord during their time on this earth.
Pope Francis calls such a steady abundance of grace in the life of a person or a community “overflow moments” when the presence of God’s providence is palpable, and the path ahead opens up with new and unexpected ways. The opening prayer at Mass this past weekend expresses this desire for all of our lives. “Lord God, open our hearts to your grace. Let it go before us and be with us that we may always be intent on doing your will.”
Sister Thea had many “overflow moments” in her life of 50 years and certainly would include her entrance into the Catholic Church at age nine, her decision to enter into formation as a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration in her mid-teens, and her perseverance in her battle with tuberculosis early in formation that did not weaken her resolve in pursuit of her religious vocation. She “had made her vows to the Lord” early in life and her “yes” empowered her to celebrate and endure all that crossed her path until God called her home like a shooting star. The documentary celebrates an abundance of God’s grace across her lifespan.
Her voice will resound for generations to come in many and varied ways. She was a scholar and educator who demanded excellence from her students, young and older. She was a charismatic woman of praise who led congregations to sing out their joy to the Lord. She had a deep love for the truth and her prophetic voice has been heard and will gather more strength over time. She loved the church and its universality and she challenged us to be genuinely one, holy, catholic and apostolic.
She wholeheartedly loved her people and culture, but not over and against the universality and diversity of the Catholic Church in our country and in the world. She upheld the dignity of all of God’s children because we are all part of the family of God. She would have sung out full throated and unsparingly last Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm, “the Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.”
In the months ahead we will develop a study guide for “Going Home Like a Shooting Star” that will shed more light on Sister Thea’s blessed life. The Holy Spirit surely will open our hearts and minds through prayer, conversation and reflection to follow the Lord more faithfully on the path to holiness, our universal call. On her gravestone is her motto: “I tried.”
May Sister Thea, Servant of God inspire us to try in the uniqueness of our lives and times to live by God’s abundant grace.