A new documentary from NewGroup Media and the Diocese of Jackson, MS, Going Home Like a Shooting Star: Thea Bowman’s Journey to Sainthood, presents the riveting life of Sister Thea Bowman, an African American Catholic Franciscan Sister who used her powerful gifts to educate and challenge the church and society to grow in racial inclusivity. Her skills of preaching, music, and teaching moved many Catholics to begin to confront their own racism while she urged her African American brothers and sisters to claim their gifts and share their “fully functioning” personhood. Thea worked tirelessly to proclaim this message until her untimely death from breast cancer in 1990.
The film features interviews and commentary from her family, Sisters in community, colleagues, friends, and former students. Input from African-American scholars, clerics and bishops will speak to the ongoing issue of systemic racism in the church and country. Extensive use is made of archival media that portrays Thea in action–photographs, film, video and audio recordings recorded in locations of significance to her life.
The program title is drawn from a quotation attributed to Sojourner Truth. When Thea was asked what she wanted said at her funeral, she answered, “Just say what Sojourner Truth said: ‘I’m not going to die. I’m going home like a shooting star.’”
The film, part of the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission’s fall documentary season, will begin airing on ABC stations nationwide on October 2, 2022. As of Sept. 30, the following stations have scheduled showings of the film:
WTVA Tupelo- Oct. 2 at 10 a.m.
WTOK Meridian – Oct. 2 at 11:30 p.m.
WLOX Biloxi – Oct. 16 at 1 p.m.
WAPT Jackson – Oct. 30 at 1 p.m.
The film can be streamed on the Diocese of Jackson’s YouTube channel beginning October 2. The film is free to view, with donations requested to the Cause for Sister Thea Bowman.
Sister Judith Ann Zielinski, OSF researched, wrote and produced the film, from early COVID-quarantined research in spring, 2020 through fund-raising, location production, scriptwriting, and delivery to ABC in fall, 2022. She coordinated dramatic re-enactments from Thea’s childhood and early convent life and conducted all of the program’s interviews—with Thea’s childhood friends, former students, teaching colleagues, two bishops, several priests and Franciscan Sisters, weaving together their personal memories and testimonies as a basis for the script.
Christopher Salvador, NGM Partner, directed the dramatic re-enactments within the film, coordinated budget, contractual and network relations, and oversaw post- production.
Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, Ordinary of Jackson, MS, initiated Sister Thea’s Cause for Sainthood in 2018 with an appeal to the full body of US Bishops which won unanimous approval. As Executive Producer, he supported the production of the film, actively collaborated with the production team, and continues to oversee the advancement of Sister Thea’s Cause.
Other interviewees include:
Rev. Maurice J. Nutt, CSsR, Preacher and pastoral theologian; Thea’s doctoral student; her biographer; associate producer instrumental in gathering pivotal colleagues and friends of Thea to participate in the project;
Rev. Bryan Massingale, Theology Professor, Fordham University, Authority/ speaker on systemic racism in the US and church;
Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory, Ordinary, Archdiocese of Washington, DC, senior African-American Bishop who was present at Sister Thea’s famous Seton Hall address to the US Bishops in 1989;
Sr Eileen McKenzie, FSPA, President, Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, Thea’s religious community, La Crosse WI;
Sr Dorothy Ann Kundinger, FSPA, Thea’s friend, companion and caretaker during Thea’s struggle with cancer and present at her death
Going Home Like a Shooting Star includes extensive use of Bowman family photos, archival material, and footage of Thea from varied public appearances, including her famous interview with Mike Wallace on CBS’ 60 Minutes.
Going Home Like a Shooting Star was filmed on location in:
- Jackson and Canton, MS
- New Orleans, LA
- La Crosse, WI
- Washington, DC
- San Antonio, TX
- New York City
- South Bend, IN
The film makes a strong connection between Thea’s Gospel call for justice, love and unity and the current effort of Black Lives Matter activists and efforts to combat systemic racism. Many in the film cite Thea’s voice as an influence on their ongoing efforts to achieve social and racial justice.
Production of Going Home Like a Shooting Star: Thea Bowman’s Journey to Sainthood was made possible with funding from the Catholic Communications Campaign of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as support from various foundations and congregations of U.S. men and women religious.