By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – On Nov. 18, 2018, Bishop Joseph Kopacz officially opened the cause for the beatification and canonization of Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, who died on March 30, 1990, at her family home in Canton. Bishop’s edict was read to the faithful in the Cathedral of Saint Peter the Apostle in Jackson during the Sunday liturgy.
Having received the nihil obstat from the Holy See’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints and gotten approval from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at the November 2018 plenary meeting in Baltimore, the cause opened the diocesan phase of the intricate canonical process leading to possible beatification.
During this phase, the Servant of God’s (this is the title she now carries) writings, theology, biography is studied and documented by appointed experts. A tribunal consisting of an episcopal delegate, promoter of justice, and notary, interview witnesses who knew her and ministered with her.
The questionnaire for the witnesses is quite extensive – probing into the virtues and the faith, hope and love shown throughout her life from childhood to death. Those interviews must be transcribed and sent to the witness for any additional comments then a signature of approval for inclusion in the Canonical acts.
When the pandemic hit, all interviews stopped. We were about two-thirds of the way through the list of witnesses. We are now slowly regrouping and hope to complete the entire process by the end of next year. This will involve tying up several loose ends and printing everything in triplicate so that it may be sent to Rome.
When all is ready, Bishop Kopacz will lead a special liturgy in which the documents will be sealed and presented to the postulator to deliver to the dicastery. Once that is completed, the postulator will work with the dicastery to move the cause forward. At a certain point, once the cause is in Rome, The Holy Father may declare the Servant of God as Venerable – showing heroic virtue.
After Venerable, the next step is beatification and in order to be beatified there must be a miracle. Examination of the miracle goes through a similar canonical process as the diocesan phase. If a miracle is proven and accepted, the Servant of God is put on the schedule for an official liturgy of beatification.
The next step would be canonization and that requires a second miracle. That miracle would have to happen after the beatification. All-in-all, the Roman side of the process takes a long time.
In the meantime, Bishop Kopacz has commissioned a life-size bronze statue of the Servant of God by a well-known bronze sculptor from Saucier, Mary Davidson. The statue will be placed in the Cathedral until a shrine location can be developed. We will feature the statue project and its uniqueness in a future article.
As for now, we need many prayers for the cause, especially for those involved in working through the fine details of the diocesan phase.
We also can use donations to the cause as it does have several financial costs for travel, translations, experts and administration. Donations may be made to the Diocese of Jackson and sent to the Chancellor’s Office, 237 E. Amite Street, Jackson, MS 39201. Make sure you mark the donation for Sister Thea’s Cause.
To donate online or to learn more about the Servant of God Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, visit our website at https://www.jacksondiocese.org/thea-bowman. From this site you may watch the wonderful documentary on her life “Going Home Like a Shooting Star” and find a link to the cause’s official site with photos and tributes to her.
Presenting a cause for canonization is one of the noblest things a diocese can undertake as an official act of the church. It is exciting to know that over the next several months we are participating in this ancient tradition and moving forward in completing the diocesan phase of this esteemed process.
(Mary Woodward is Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson.)