Leap of faith fuels diving adventure

By Joe Lee
MADISON – Former President George H. W. Bush might be the first person that comes to mind when one thinks of skydiving late in life.

Our country’s 41st president, Bush passed away in 2018 at the age of 94. A Navy pilot during World War II, he jumped from an airplane in 1999 to commemorate his 75th birthday. He enjoyed the experience so much he did so again on birthdays in 2004, 2009 and, remarkably, in 2014 – at the ripe old age of 90.

“It’s vintage George Bush,” said spokesman Jim McGrath to Fox News after Bush’s skydive in 2014. “It’s that passion for life. It’s wanting to set a goal, wanting to achieve it. I’m sure part of it is sending a message to others that even in your retirement years you can still find challenges.”

At age 83, Lois Booth of Sacred Heart Canton fulfilled her bucket-list item to skydive. She is pictured here with her grandchildren after her skydive over Thanksgiving in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo courtesy of Lois Booth)

Adventures in parasailing
Lois Booth didn’t make the national news after her skydive last Thanksgiving. Neither did Rita Martinson, her neighbor at St. Catherine’s Village in Madison. But the motivations for both – and their shared sense of accomplishment afterward – were comparable to those of our nation’s late Skydiver-in-Chief.

“My identical twin sister and I went to Orange Beach, Alabama, two years ago and parasailed. I loved it and she did, too,” said Booth, who grew up in Drew, Mississippi, became Catholic a year ago, and is a parishioner at Sacred Heart Church in Canton.

“The exhilaration I felt as we lifted off the back of that boat had me squealing like a teenager,” she continued. “I think we were 3,000-4,000 feet up. We were in the air about five minutes. There were six of us on the boat. You go off the back of the boat, and land on the back of the boat. I learned from parasailing how to land while skydiving.”
She also began thinking about skydiving for the first time that day.

Fascinated with flying
Rita Martinson, who served District 58 in the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1992-2016, is a long-time parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Madison. A native of Gloster, Mississippi, she thinks she has adventure in her blood.

“If you’d been raised in a little town like Gloster, you’d have it in yours, too,” she said of her formative years. “We lived in our imaginations.”

Always fascinated with flying, Martinson received her fixed-wing pilot license in 1965 and became certified to fly glider aircraft several years later. The move to parasailing probably wasn’t a surprise to anyone who knew Martinson and her late husband, Billy, who encouraged her and went along on her flights.

“Every chance I got, I flew,” Martinson said. “I was fascinated with hot-air balloon rides and rode in them. The next thing was to jump out of a plane. Billy and I joined several flying clubs. One was a Cessna club.”

In learning about flying a glider, Martinson became well-versed in thermals, or the combination of warmth provided by the sun and the ground that’s necessary to keep the lightweight craft aloft. As the sun warms the ground, the ground warms the air directly above it. This provides lift for the glider, which counters the natural sinking tendency of the plane.

“The higher you could get in one of those thermals, the longer you could stay up,” Martinson said. “The worst thing I ever experienced was actually a dream I had, where I pulled the rope too soon and couldn’t get the plane high enough to have altitude to land. That put the fear of the Lord in me for a while.”

Martinson and her husband went to Puerto Vallarto, Mexico, seven or eight times to parasail. In keeping with her lifelong sense of adventure, Martinson began to consider jumping out of a plane, thinking it would be fun.

“I’m in New Orleans often and found a skydiving club in St. Tammany Parish. I made sure they had precautions and safety measures,” she said. “Billy was still living when I made my first jump.”

Religious experience
Booth’s skydive took place last Thanksgiving in Raleigh, North Carolina. She relished the opportunity to go with her grandchild.

“I was tethered to an ex-Marine I met that morning,” she said. “He was delightful. I watched them pack the parachutes, and I had all the confidence in the world in him. There were 14-15 people on the plane, and when the green light by the door goes on, it’s done. There’s no turning back.”

“The most uncomfortable part is that once you jump, you freefall several thousand feet. It’s hard to breathe. Once (the ex-Marine) deployed the parachute, we sat upright, and it was absolutely beautiful. It was late afternoon, and the sun was getting ready to go down. It was a religious experience.”

“This was a drop of 13,000 feet,” Booth continued. “It was quiet and calm. You could not hear anything. It was about as serene as I have ever been. I told a friend that I soared like an eagle and landed like a feather. A lot of the people on the plane were true parachutists. One woman was making her fourteenth or fifteenth jump.”

Rita Martinson of St. Francis Madison, took her first skydive in November 2017 with grandson Eric McKie. She plans to ‘step out on faith’ in another dive on her 85th birthday on Sept. 11. (Photo courtesy of Rita Martinson)

Booth, who turns 84 in June, considered the skydive a bucket list item. Although she has no plans for another jump, the overwhelmingly positive first experience is something she’ll always carry with her.

“I think being able to step out of the box at this age is important, both to keep yourself up and running and interested – and interesting,” she said. “The pandemic took its toll on everybody, and I’m no exception. That was one more reason I needed to prove to myself that I could still do anything I wanted to do.”

“Sock it to me”
Martinson’s jump took place in November 2017. Like Booth, she went airborne with a grandchild.

“First, you don’t jump – you walk out of the plane,” she said. “Eric, who had jumped once before, was tethered to someone else. We were asked if we wanted to do any loops or twirls. I said, ‘Sock it to me.’ We were up at 11,000 feet when we jumped. It made me a little dizzy, but it’s fun to know what it’s like, and that you can do it.”

Martinson, who will celebrate her 85th birthday on September 11, will do what President Bush did on his 85th birthday – step out on faith and watch the world as she knows it come into focus while she floats back to earth.

“People who are afraid to take a chance never get to see what they can do,” Martinson said. “It helped me and our children that Billy always urged us to get out there and take risks. He did that, too.”

“I would like others to know that there are no firm boundaries keeping them from at least trying to do new things. There is so much to gain by at least giving it a whirl. I only wish there were more time to do more.”

(Joe Lee is the Editor-in-Chief of Dogwood Press, and member of St. Francis Madison.)

Crucifix finds home, Natchez archives attempt to solve mystery of blessed nail

From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – In the last article we visited with some statues that had found new homes after being displaced. This week I would like to introduce you to a couple of crucifixes that are connected with two churches dedicated to the Blessed Mother.

First, we have the crucifix that adorned St. Mary Church in West Jackson. The parish was merged with St. Therese Parish in 2015. St. Mary Church was completed in the mid-1950s and stood regally on Claiborne Avenue for 60 years, but early on Yazoo Clay began to take a toll on the foundation of the structure. The rise of suburbia took a toll on the size of the congregation and ultimately the difficult decision was made to close St. Mary’s and merge it with St. Therese.

NATCHEZ – A crucifix was discovered by St. Mary Basilica Archives Committee in the original crypt area in the lower level of the church in early 2012. The committee attempted to locate a “blessed nail” thought to be “preserved in the Sacred Feet,” according to note from Bishop Elder dated May 3, 1869. (Photo by Mike Murphy)

We featured St. Mary’s statues previously as mentioned, but the actual dismantling of the high altar and finding a home for the crucifix that graced it was a daunting challenge. Eventually, we made contact with Father Tommy Conway of the Diocese of Biloxi, who was tasked with establishing a new parish ironically in a suburb outside of Hattiesburg.

The corpus was wooden with a long crack down the torso. It was attached to one-inch-thick green now very brittle marble. Therefore, the corpus was removed separately and mounted to a wooden frame for transport to the new parish which was dedicated to St. Fabian.

It was the last item loaded into the 18-wheeler full of crated marble, tabernacle, and candlesticks. As in Caravaggio’s Deposition, the salvage crew reverently carried the Crucified Christ to the bed of the trailer and gently laid him down on a padded cloth. The door slid down like the stone rolled before the tomb.
I have to say it was a very powerful moment for all of us working there that morning. Watching the truck pull away knowing the Lord was entombed in it brought a silence upon us and tears trickled out of the corner of eyes down cheeks.

Our second featured crucifix now hangs on the wall in the St. Mary Basilica family life center in Natchez. In early 2012, the crucifix was discovered by Basilica Archives Committee members in the original crypt area in the lower level of the church. It was mounted on a wall and showed the signs of its age and a few botched repair efforts.

One of the wonderful aspects of archives life is the people one encounters. St. Mary Basilica Archives Committee is a group of extremely dedicated individuals who have taken the reins of creating an amazing local archive, which is a shining example of love for our faith and our traditions.

Immediately the committee, led at that time by Chairman Jimmy Guercio, resolved to have the sacred object researched and restored. According to an article by Guercio on the Basilica Archives web page, there was no real documentation on the crucifix anywhere. The only mention of a large crucifix being in the church was from Bishop William Henry Elder’s note dated May 3, 1869, that a “blessed nail” was “preserved in the Sacred Feet of the large crucifix…in the Cathedral…”

Coincidentally, the Conrad Schmitt design and restoration company, which had restored the Basilica in 2001, was wrapping up its renovations of the Cathedral in Jackson. Wil Kolstad, the lead artisan for the Cathedral project, was sent to Natchez to restore the crucifix.

Prior to completing the process, the mystery of the blessed nail needed to be solved. Therefore, Guercio, Kolstad and other committee members accompanied the corpus across the river to a diagnostic imaging center in Vidalia. The whole process of the patient Jesus being scanned was documented by committee photographer Mike Murphy.

Unfortunately, the scan did not reveal a nail in the feet, but it does reflect the fine dedication of the Basilica Archives Committee and its commitment to document the faith and tradition of the church of Natchez and our diocese. I hope these accounts of our sacred objects will inspire in you, the reader, a sense of Catholicity and a love for the deep and sacred spiritual traditions of our church. There is nothing else like it on this earth; it can only be heaven sent.

(Mary Woodward is Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson)

Youth

Student life at Catholic schools

Columbus

COLUMBUS – Seventh grader, Day Ivy acted as the Queen of Hearts in the Annunciation Middle School musical, Alice in Wonderland. (Photo by Katie Fenstermacher)

Greenville

GREENVILLE – Jasmine and Joe Parish, along with Emma, Madelyn and Matt Clanton enjoy a dinner before they hit the dance floor at the Daddy Daughter Date Night on Friday, April 29. (Photo by Nikki Thompson)

Meridian

Jackson

JACKSON – Sister Thea Bowman Catholic School Kindergartener, Zyon Brown and PreK4 student, Katelyn Kelly presented teachers Barbara Davis and Ethel Jimerson with a class gift basket of sweet treats to show how thankful the students are to have them as their teachers. (Photo by Shae Goodman-Robinson)
JACKSON – St. Richard student, Mary Catherine Vanderloo completed her “Famous Mississippian” project on Sarah Thomas, the NFL’s first full-time female official (referee). The entire fourth grade was surprised when Sarah Thomas herself visited the class on Friday, April 29. (Photo by Tammy Conrad)

Yazoo City

YAZOO CITY – St. Mary parish celebrated Mother’s Day with “Mary in the Garden.” Parishioners had a beautiful day of fellowship, the crowning of Mary and praying the Rosary to celebrate mothers. (Photo by Babs McMaster)

Vicksburg

Featured photo We need your photos!…

Please, share your parish pictures with us! Mississippi Catholic will publish Sacrament pages in an upcoming edition this summer. Please send photos in actual size and include the following: parish name, sacrament celebrated, full names of those pictured by row (left to right) and name of photographer. Please email photos and information to: editor@jacksondiocese.org.

CLEVELAND – Our Lady of Victories First Communion was held on Sunday, May 1 with Father Kent Bowlds. Bottom row (l-r): Grace Aguzzi, Karen Lopez, Sophie Antici, Lily Todd Rickels, Mary Matt Giachelli and Alondra Dimas.Top row (l-r): Victor Aguzzi, Charles Hardesty, Tabb Worsham, Samuel Hardesty, Luke Williams, Anderson Kitching, Alan Rivas, Martin Aguilar and Isaac Morales. (Photo by Jenifer Jenkins)

Foundation Charitable Gift Annuity offers income and aids with philanthropic goals

By Rebecca Harris
JACKSON – The Catholic Foundation works to help with your philanthropic goals. Part of our mission is to foster stewardship here in our diocese the Catholic Foundation works with individuals who are interested in starting a charitable gift annuity. Many donors shy away from these types of donations because they feel they are too complicated for them. Our goal is to walk you through the process to determine if this is the right type of gift for you.

What is a Charitable Gift Annuity?
It is is an arrangement that permits a donor to make a gift to while retaining a stream of fixed income payments for the donor’s life. Any balance remaining in the annuity after the death of the donor then passes to the Foundation for the ministry, parish, or Catholic School chosen by the donor.

What are the Benefits?
The primary benefit of a Charitable Gift Annuity is that the donor receives a fixed payment for life, no matter how long he or she may live. A portion of the payments are tax-free for a specified time. Further, because the donor is making a gift to the Catholic Foundation, a portion of the amount paid for the annuity is an immediate deductible charitable gift for income tax purposes, as allowable by IRS rules.

The donor would also have the satisfaction of knowing that a gift today will be used to support future Catholics in our diocese.

What are the Features?
The donor receives secure convenient deposits of payments into your preferred bank account. There are three types of annuities to select from immediate one life, immediate two lives, or deferred payments to start later. The minimum amount to establish a charitable gift annuity is $5,000 and the minimum age to receive income is 55 years old.

Is a Charitable Gift Annuity right for you?
Our staff is ready to work with you. To get a free illustration of your gift please contact Rebecca Harris at (601) 960-8477. With a few details and we can provide you with a gift illustration. Included in the illustration is your potential charitable income tax deduction and your yearly payments for life as well as an estimated amount that will go to your beneficiary.

Briefs

NATION
NEW YORK (CNS) – New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said he was surprised and inspired by Ukrainians he met when he made a brief visit to Lviv, Ukraine. “I thought I would come to Ukraine and see great depression,” he told the Religious Information Service of Ukraine. “Yes, I see sadness and pain, but I am impressed by the vitality, hope and solidarity of Ukrainians.” On May 2, the cardinal and Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki, Latin-rite archbishop of Lviv, met with the leadership of the Ukrainian Catholic University, families of displaced Ukrainians who found refuge during the war and student volunteers. The visit was part of a trip by a New York church delegation to visit and express solidarity with Ukrainian refugees, including those in the bordering countries of Poland and Slovakia. “I see Ukrainians welcoming internally displaced persons. I see Ukrainians giving their rooms and houses to those who have lost their homes, such as here at the Ukrainian Catholic University. I see Ukrainians volunteering and working on water, medicine and food supplies,” Cardinal Dolan told RISU. “I see people who are patriots. I see Ukrainians who do not allow evil to say the last word. Life will overcome darkness. Life will defeat death. There is no depression in Ukraine, there is hope. I feel encouraged to be here in Ukraine.” The cardinal told RISU he would pass on Ukrainians’ messages of gratitude for all the help they received from Americans. Nearly 12 million Ukrainians have fled their own country or been displaced from their homes in Ukraine since the Russian military invasion of their homeland began Feb. 24, according to the United Nations.

WASHINGTON (CNS) – After the Supreme Court ruled that Boston violated the free speech rights of a Christian group to fly its flag at City Hall, another group, The Satanic Temple, has requested permission to fly a flag outside the city building. The mayor’s office of the Boston has not commented on the group’s request except to say that is has been reviewing the court’s decision and also evaluating its flag-raising program. On May 2, the Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in favor of the city flying the flag of a Christian group. It said the city couldn’t deny the group the right to raise its flag along with other flags reflecting the city’s diversity. “Boston’s flag-raising program does not express government speech,” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer in the court’s opinion. “As a result, the city’s refusal to let (the group) fly their flag based on its religious viewpoint violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.” “This case is so much more significant than a flag,” said Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal group that represented Camp Constitution that owns the flag in question. “Boston openly discriminated against viewpoints it disfavored when it opened the flagpoles to all applicants and then excluded Christian viewpoints,” he added in a statement.

VATICAN
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Meeting with superiors general of women’s religious orders, Pope Francis arrived in a wheelchair – the first time he has used one publicly at the Vatican. The 85-year-old pope has been experiencing severe knee pain for months and told an Italian newspaper May 3 that his doctor had advised rest and “injections” into the knee; the Vatican has not clarified whether the injections would be cortisone, hyaluronic acid or another therapy typically used to treat joint pain or deterioration. When the pope met May 5 with members of the women’s International Union of Superiors General, he arrived in a wheelchair pushed by his personal aide, Sandro Mariotti. The women superiors were holding their plenary assembly in Rome May 2-6, focusing on the theme, “Embracing Vulnerability on the Synodal Journey.” Pope Francis handed the UISG leaders his prepared text but responded to questions rather than reading the speech. According to the UISG communications office, the discussion included the war in Ukraine, the need to offer long-term help to Ukraine and Ukrainians, the importance of discernment within religious communities, colonialism and the importance of being faithful to the founding charism of one’s order without being “rigid.” One of the tweets from the office said the pope told them not to be “frozen nuns.”

WORLD
ABUJA, Nigeria (CNS) – Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari told West African bishops he appreciated Pope Francis’ encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” for proposing some of the boldest and most radical ideas on securing human unity, peace and security. “Peace cannot reign in our region if it does not first reign in our communities and countries. Which is why I think that the theme of this summit is especially apt,” the president said in a message read by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. The president’s message was delivered May 3 at the opening of the Reunion of Episcopal Conferences of West Africa, meeting on the theme “Fratelli Tutti: Path to Build Brotherhood and Sustainable Peace in West Africa.” Buhari said the basis of the encyclical – “the idea that fraternity and social friendship are the ways to build a better, more just and peaceful world with the commitment of all people and institutions” – was especially needed in today’s times. He said people of faith should look upon diversity as a gift, not as a cause of conflict. “By offering concrete prescriptions on building brotherhood and sustainable peace anywhere, the encyclical ‘Fratelli Tutti’ rightly takes the position that this is not merely the business of governments and political institutions; it must also be anchored on our civil societies, of which the faith communities are an important constituency.”

LIMA, Peru (CNS) – Good Shepherd Sister María Agustina Rivas Lopez, who was murdered by terrorists during Peru’s political violence, was beatified May 7 during a liturgy in the same plaza where she was shot to death in 1990. The altar, adorned with local tropical plants and flowers, was set up outside the simple, red-roofed Catholic church in La Florida, a small town in the central Amazonian Vicariate of San Ramon. A reliquary, adorned with leaves fashioned from silver and containing relics of Sister Rivas, who was known affectionately as “Sor Aguchita,” was placed on a table before the altar. The offertory gifts included a basket of bread, a coffee plant, cassava tubers, cacao pods and fruit, all crops typical of the area. With her life and her death, Sister Rivas put her faith in peace, not in violence, Bishop Gerardo Zerdin of San Ramon told Catholic News Service. She also leaves an example of an “option for the Amazon, nature, the environment,” he said, and “a great urge to serve others. with a complete absence of economic interest.” In his homily at the beatification Mass, Venezuelan Cardinal Baltazar Porras Cardozo, who represented Pope Francis at the ceremony, highlighted Sister Rivas’ humility and willingness to serve others, her preferential option for the poor and her devotion to the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph from an early age. Her martyrdom, he said, highlighted “the senselessness of violence, crime, injustice, and the evil of ideologies in which human life means nothing. The indiscriminate use of weapons leaves only death and desolation; it does not solve real problems of human coexistence.”

Motherhood, steward for life

Stewardship paths
By Julia Williams
JACKSON – The month of May is a special month because it is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This year, we celebrate two important Marian feasts during this month: Our Lady of Fatima on May 13 and The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary on May 31.

May is also dedicated to recognizing moms, grandmothers, stepmoms, mothers-to-be and all women who, in and through their lives, encompass the qualities of motherhood.

When we talk about Christian stewardship, we talk about sacrificially returning to God what we have been given. What can more clearly be a demonstration of complete sacrifice than the relationship between mother and child during the nine months of growth in the womb?

All mothers should look to Mary as their model for motherhood and ask her intercession as they strive to fulfill their God-given role in their children’s lives.

During the month of May, let us all take some time to express our appreciation to our mothers for allowing us to come into this world, for loving us, and for serving as an example of what it means to be a steward for life.

(To subscribe to the monthly Stewardship PATHS newsletter, scan the QR code or email julia.williams@jacksondiocese.org. Excerpts: bigcatholics.blogspot.com)

Virgin Mary, Jan van Eyck, 1426-1429 (Public Domain)

Catholic University names street in honor of Sister Thea Bowman

By Richard Szczepanowski
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Officials at The Catholic University of America dedicated and blessed a campus street April 29 named in honor of the late Sister Thea Bowman, a noted educator and evangelist who studied at Catholic University and whose cause for canonization was opened in 2018.

“During her life, Sister Thea was a shining example of religious life, and she worked for social justice, racial equality and harmony among all peoples, especially in the Catholic Church,” said Washington Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory who blessed the new Sister Thea Bowman Drive. “We are pleased to dedicate this street in her honor as a reminder that her life’s work still continues in the church and on this campus today.”

Washington Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory, right, and Mayor Muriel Bowser of the District of Columbia, left, participate in the dedication and blessing of Sister Thea Bowman Drive at The Catholic University of America in Washington April 29, 2022. Sister Bowman, who died in 1990, is one of six Black Catholics who are candidates for sainthood. Her sainthood cause was opened in 2018 and she has the title “Servant of God.” (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Sister Thea died in 1990 from cancer at the age of 52. When she was 15, she entered the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, becoming the first and only African-American member of her order. When she took her vows as a nun, she changed her name from Bertha Bowman to Mary Thea Bowman, and pursued studies at Catholic University where she earned a master’s and doctorate degree in English.

For more than 15 years, Sister Thea was an educator on the high school and college levels. She then began her ministry as an evangelist, traveling the United States to urge priests, bishops and her fellow Catholics to accept her and other African Americans as “fully Black and fully Catholic.”
In addition to her evangelization work, Sister Thea helped found the National Black Sisters Conference to provide support for African-American women in religious life. In 1987, she also helped produce “Lead Me, Guide Me: The African American Catholic Hymnal,” the first such hymnal for African-American Catholics.

“While she went home to God more than 30 years ago, the impact of Sister Thea Bowman’s life is still felt in our own time,” Cardinal Gregory said in blessing the street next to the university’s Columbus School of Law. “By her words and example, she challenged everyone to follow the command of the Lord Jesus to love God with all of our heart and our neighbors as ourselves.”
Among those attending the dedication ceremony was D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who called the late nun “an extraordinary woman of faith.”

Mayor Bowser, who grew up in and continues to attend nearby St. Anthony of Padua Parish said that whenever anyone sees the newly named street, “they will be inspired to do more and to be better.”

The street dedication was recommended by the university’s Sister Thea Bowman Committee, which was formed to promote racial diversity on the campus and the wider community.

“In recognition of Sister Thea’s contributions and lasting impact as a religious sister, as an educator and as the conscience of the church, the university thought it important to honor her in a permanent and visible way by naming a street after her,” said Regina Jefferson, a professor of law at the university’s Columbus School of Law and chairperson of the Sister Thea Bowman Committee.
“We hope that the Sister Thea Bowman Drive will serve not only as a visible tribute to Sister Thea, but also as a constant reminder to each of us to … work together to make positive and meaningful change in our lives, our communities and the world,” she said.

Aaron Dominguez, the university’s provost, praised Sister Thea as “our righteous inspiration.”
“We celebrate Sister Thea by dedicating this road to her, a strong, Black Catholic woman who is in the process of navigating the path toward sainthood in the Catholic Church and whose legacy continues to call us to walk a road of solidarity and unity as one human family,” Dominguez said.
The motherhouse of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in La Crosse, Wisconsin, sent a letter that was read during the dedication ceremony, that said they hoped that as people “move along Sister Thea Bowman Drive, you move with love and joy.”

(Szczepanowski is managing editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.)

Panel brings Sister Thea Bowman’s life and legacy to Georgetown audience

By Mark Pattison
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Sister Thea Bowman, one of six Black Catholics known as a “Servant of God” now that their sainthood causes are being advanced, has plenty of lessons to impart from her life to Catholics today, said panelists at a Georgetown University dialogue May 4 that featured not only personal perspectives but was also peppered with song.

Earlier in the day, Jesuit-run Georgetown had dedicated a chapel in a building on campus in the name of Sister Bowman, a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration.

Sister Patricia Chappell, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur and former executive director of Pax Christi U.S.A. and former president of the National Black Sisters Conference, recalled her first encounter with Sister Thea in 1980 at an NBSC meeting.

Sulpician Father Peter W. Gray of Reisterstown, Md., displays a portrait he did of Sister Thea Bowman, a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, at his home office in Reisterstown, Md., March 4, 2022. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

“She was all up in there throwing down with the rest of us,” Sister Chappell said, as she gave a demonstration of the signature part of the Aretha Franklin hit “Respect”: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me,” that the sisters were singing jointly.

Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington was an auxiliary bishop of Chicago in 1984 when he first encountered Sister Thea at a Saturday afternoon parish program on liturgy, culture and music. “I was just mesmerized,” he recalled. “She was just full of life. And I said to myself, ‘You can learn a lot from this woman.’”

Shannen Dee Williams, an associate professor of history at the University of Dayton and the author of “Subversive Habits: Black Catholic Nuns in the Long African American Freedom Struggle,” only found out about Sister Thea in graduate school at Rutgers going though microfilm newspapers from the Black press.

“Sister Thea would call us to tell ‘the true truth’ and realize the greatest weapons of white supremacy is the ability to erase the violence and victims, and therefore we have to tell the true truth,” Williams said.

Asked what Sister Thea might say or sing were she living today, Sister Chappell replied with another song, a favorite from the civil rights movement: “Ain’t going to let nobody turn me around, turn us around, turn us around; ain’t going to let nobody turn us around. We’re going to keep on walking, keep on talking, marching up to freedom land.”

“Certainly there have been so many occasions in our recent history where we might think he’s (God) gone – it’s all over, our nation has collapsed. Our dreams are smashed,” Cardinal Gregory said, although he did not break into song. “But that song. And that’s one of my favorite songs: ‘His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he’s watching over me.’”

“Sister Thea understood it mattered who told her story that Sister Thea was not just a champion of racial justice but she stood against sexism, she stood against all forms of discrimination and oppression and so often sometimes we focus on her championing of the great diversity of us which is beautiful and all of that and it’s authentically Catholic but we forget that she was struggling,” Williams said.

“For so many people, we don’t know the history of the anti-Black admissions policies of the sisterhoods we haven’t had that many sisters of color and African American descendant sisters not because they weren’t being called but because they weren’t able to enter communities so it’s a story of lost vocations and just a reminder that generation of African American women and girls who desegregated those communities are forgotten,” Williams said.

Sister Thea died in 1990 at age 52 from cancer.

Ardent longing

From the Hermitage
By sister alies therese
In Madeleine L’Engle’s marvelous Wrinkle in Time, Meg learns what to long for in darkness and foreboding. When she discovered Mrs. Whatsit loved her, Meg could use it. Only hatred and deception filled It, yet by love, Meg would make all things well again, despite her fears. The more she insisted she loved her brother Charles Wallace, the more he was freed from It’s powerful falsehoods to become himself again; freedom reigned, and they escaped. I wonder if Julian saw something like this in her shewings, her wrinkle in time; the passion being full of hatred and darkness yet ultimately exposing great love?

“In a world that is in danger of losing sight of the fact that ‘all shall be well,’ Julian’s soteriology has something to contribute to hope…unity between all things: God, creation and humanity…it generates hope that our present experience of divine love will come to eschatological fruition for all creation, all things, in the fulness of God’s time.” (Gifted Origins to Graced Fulfillment: The Soteriology of Julian of Norwich, Kerrie Hide)

Consider some similarities: Julian (1342-1416) was surrounded by plague…the Black Death killed over 55,000 in Norfolk when she was six. The Hundreds’ Year war, peasant revolts, the troubled reign of Richard II, prosecution of heresy, and the Great Schism splitting the Latin and Eastern rites were among top news items. Today’s issues are sadly familiar. Many languish looking for hope, wondering what to desire.

To discover the hope and joy that Julian will finally tell us about, this ‘all shall be well,’ invites us into the search to discover the demon of deception who tries to overcome God’s kindness. We find Julian disclosing her encounters with Jesus in her book.

Sister alies therese

What did the revelations on May 8, 1373, unveil? God’s love for all He had created. The first fifteen came three days after pain left her during a near-death experience; the sixteenth came after a gap where she was confronted by the devil in frightening darkness. God’s love keeps and sustains all and though there is sin, God looks on all God has made with pity, does not blame, and assures us that ‘all will be well.’

Julian was in her 30’s when she picked up her cat, moved with her maid, and set off to pray in an anchorhold, rooms attached to the church. The local Bishop sealed her in with a liturgy of the dead and consecration, and she never left, speaking only to her maid, the priest and those who came to her window for consolation facing the busy streets of Norwich, then England’s second-largest city.

“Concerning my third petition, I conceived a very great desire to receive three wounds: the wound of true contrition, the wound of natural compassion, and the wound of fullhearted longing for God.” (Revelations of Divine Love, Intro)

God answered her plea.

What do I ardently long for? Julian’s three gifts are stark in our world of opposites. The wounds are central to her life, and she says: “…in grief and sorrow, I said this to my Lord, in fear and trembling: ‘Oh good Lord, how can all be well when great harm has come to your creatures through sin?’” (chapter 29)

In chapter 31, the good Lord answered with this: “I am able to make all things well, and I shall make all things well. And you will see for yourself that all manner of thing shall be well.”

Consider this: “Find delight in the Lord, who will give you your heart’s desires.” (Psalms 37:4) Jesus will quote from this psalm when teaching the beatitudes: “But the meek shall inherit the earth; and will delight in great prosperity.” (37:11) These ‘meek’ are those ‘overwhelmed by want,’ the anawim, and ‘denotes those who are aware of their dependence upon God.’ (New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 532). Those deceived are sure they are in control. Julian, however, like these anawim, banked on Jesus whose: “Hidden dynamism was at work by which all manner of thing would be well. This ‘secret,’ this act which the Lord keeps hidden is the full fruit of the Parousia. It is not just that ‘Jesus comes,’ but Jesus comes to reveal with God’s final answer to all the world’s anguish…the ‘great deed’ the Lord will do on that day, not of destruction and revenge, but of mercy and life…all will be made right in spite of all its sorrow. The ‘wise heart’ remains in hope and contradiction…fixed on the secret.” (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Thomas Merton)

Finally, Julian wants to reveal this love, this joy, this ‘secret’ Merton speaks of. In chapter 14 she shares: “I saw in my imagination heaven, and our Lord as the head of the house, who had invited all dear servants and friends to a great feast. The Lord occupied no one place in particular in the house, but presided regally over it all, suffusing it with joy and cheer. Utterly at home, and with perfect courtesy, Jesus was the eternal happiness and comfort of friends, the marvelous music of unending love showing in the beauty of His blessed face full of joy and delight.”

(Sister alies therese is a canonically vowed hermit with days formed around prayer and writing.)