Sister Thea Bowman, A Ministry of Joy

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Sister Thea Bowman addressing the USCCB:

Sr. Thea Bowman was born in 1937 on December 29th. This was in Mississippi and her parents named her Bertha. She was the granddaughter of slaves; her parents were a doctor and a teacher. She was raised Methodist, but when she was nine years old, she converted to Roman Catholicism. At 15, she joined the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.

Over the years, she received a B.A., a M.A., and a PhD in English and then went on to teach. She also received an honorary doctorate in theology from Boston College. She was a poet, a preacher, and a teacher, and she used all of those embodiments to bring a light to her calling that couldn’t help but be infectious to her contemporaries and those of us who have come after and continue to read of her works.

“When we understand our history and culture, then we can develop the ritual, the music and the devotional expression that satisfy us in the Church.”

She said this and it illustrates her impact on the development of a particular worship dedicated to and for Black Catholics. She was invaluable in the 1987 publication of the Catholic Hymnal, Lead Me, Guide Me: The Arican-American Catholic Hymnal.

Her essay, The Gift of African-American Sacred Song can be downloaded by clicking on the title.

Her “ministry of joy” led the Diocese of Mississippi to bring her on as a consultant for intercultural awareness. In reading up on Sr. Thea, I really preferred this descriptor of intercultural rather than multi-cultural. It feels more natural to me. A person who knew her called her “the springtime in everyone’s life,” a visual that leaps out in color and light and blue sky.

Imagine what more she could have done and influenced in the past twenty-nine years had she not died at the young age of 52, on today’s date in 1990 of bone cancer.

There are at least twelve institutions named for her from Boston in the east to as far west as Illinois.

The Diocese (of Mississippi) has begun the research into Sr. Thea’s “heroic virtues” after which a cause for canonization can be opened in Rome if warranted.

Two of her written works you could look into for more from Sr. Thea are:

Families, Black and Catholic, Catholic and Black. Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference. Commission on Marriage and Family Life, 1985.

Thea Bowman: In My Own Words. Liguori, Mo.: Liguori Publications, 2009. ISBN 978-0-7648-1782-3. index of Bowman’s speeches, writings, and interviews, with a brief biographical sketch and epilogue (with Maurice J. Nutt)

I will leave you with her own words that spoke to me prayerfully earlier this week:

“Maybe I’m not making big changes in the world, but if I have somehow helped or encouraged somebody along the journey, then I’ve done what I’m called to do.

Sundays in Lent – 4th Saturday

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Blessed be
the grass beneath my feet,
the sky above my head,
the air in my lungs,
the wind at my back,
the scent of incense,
and the sight of its rising.

Confess as Patrick
Share Christ’s voice as Columba
Spread my cloak across the land as Brigid
Teach and write as Finbarr, Aidan, and Bede
Navigate the way as Brendan

Blessed be
the shelter, the sustenance, the faith.
Follow.
Be present.
Be open.

Blessed be we.

20/52 – St. Elen, my patron saint

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There is very little information on St. Elen, the saint I chose for my confirmation. She is the patron of road builders and travellers. She is coincidentally from the place I visited in 2009 without knowing it as well as one of her holy wells being in the town I visited in 1987, also unbeknownst to me. I’m hoping to pilgrimage there this summer if at all possible.

Here is some insight into some of the reasons I chose her.

This is copied from my original post about St. Elen.

Initially, I was seeking out a Welsh saint because of my long spiritual connection to Wales and the Celtic peoples, but upon discovering St. Elen, I discovered that there were several other reasons why I connected to her.

First and foremost, Ellen was my mother’s middle name and it gives me a connection to her as I join the church. My first teacher, who taught me lessons of generosity and the importance of family.

Secondly, Elen is from Caernarfon, the town in which I stayed for three nights in 2009. It hadn’t been on my list of places to visit until a Welsh friend randomly suggested it that I should go there and see the castle.

Her daughter is said to have married Vortigern, the only source for their marriage being carved on the Eliseg Pillar which is very near Valle Crucis Abbey, another Welsh place I gravitated to.

Ellen is also one of my favorite television characters: mother, business owner, independent, smart, how could I go wrong?

11-52 -Do the Little Things

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St. David’s most widely known miracle was while he was preaching at the Synod of Brefi when a small hill rose beneath his feet so he could be seen and heard by those assembled. A white dove took its place on David’s shoulder. What preacher or public speaker wouldn’t want to be seen and heard more clearly? He also gave sight to a blind man and raised a widow’s son from the dead.

He established monastic settlements throughout Wales. His brand of monasticism was through simplicity and asceticism.

They [the monks] were to pull the plow themselves, eat only bread and vegetables, herbs, drink only water, own nothing and pray each and every evening.

They looked after travelers and the poor. Beekeeping was one of their other many missions.

Born around 500, he died, probably in 589 on March 1st, his feast day since the 12th century, and is buried at the Cathedral bearing his name in St. David’s, Pembrokeshire. His shrine was a popular pilgrimage during the Middle Ages and his relics are still there today.

Ironically for me, his flag is in Hufflepuff colors, a yellow cross on a black background. His symbol is a leek.

He is the patron of Wales, vegetarians, poets, and doves.

His last words to his followers were:

Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.

Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywydDo the little things in life has become a well-known inspirational saying in Wales.

This is such a good philosphy for everyone to have and to try and live by. We all have those moments of wanting to help or do something for someone else, but feel overwhelmed by the scope of what to do and how to do it. Moving forward with simplicity and doing the little things  are ways we can all contribute to someone else’s well-being. Start small. Offer to drive an elderly neighbor to the grocery store or to church. Mow someone’s lawn. Hold open the door for the person in front of or behind you. Pick up litter on your path. Smile at someone passing you in the aisle. There are so many small ways we can do big things.

One of my favorite non-profits is Random Acts. They excel at simplicity and creating big things out of small gestures. Check them out at the link and follow St. David’s advice: Do the little things.

Saints of Travel

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Even to those who are not religious it is common to pray for safe travel. Whether praying to a deity or the one true G-d or goddesses or anything in between, we all wish and hope for safe travels. We ask for good weather and no mechanical mishaps and no crying children or snoring neighbors leaning in our shoulders in each of our own ways. We beg the Almighty for an empty middle seat and no turbulence.

Here are a few of the Catholic patrons of traveling or travelers including my own patron, St. Elen.

I’ve read that St. Christopher is no longer a patron of travel. I know many thousands of people who would disagree so I’ve included him in this list.

St. Anthony of Padua
St. Christopher
St. Elen
St. Joseph, Husband of Mary
St. Nicholas

Please add your own travel companions in the comments.