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90 • Part I. The Creed: The Faith Professed

African American community of the rural South. Like a modern version

of the singing poets of Scripture, the bards of ancient Greece, and the

storytellers of Africa, she shared the Gospel and the gifts of black Ameri­

cans with all who would listen. She demonstrated a social conscience on

many occasions.

She spoke to the U.S. bishops on June 17, 1989, at their meeting at

Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. Suffering from bone

cancer, she spoke from a wheelchair. Among the many challenges she

presented was one about Catholic schools.

I’ve got to say one more thing. You-all ain’t going to like this but

that’s all right. The Church has repeatedly asked black folk, what

do you want, what can the Church do for you? And black folk

all over the country are saying, help us to education. We need

education. The way out of poverty is education. We can’t be

Church without education, because ignorance kills and cripples

us. Black people are still asking the Church for education. (“To Be

Black and Catholic,”


[July 6, 1989]: 117)

At the conclusion of her speech—received by the bishops as a warm

and moving message—she asked the bishops to join her in singing “We

shall overcome,” with their arms joined to bring them closer together. She

often said, “We do not want to change the theology of the Church. We

just want to express theology within the roots of our black spiritual cul-

ture” (quoted in Mary Queen Donnelly, “Sr. Thea Bowman [1937-1990],”


[April 25, 1990]).

As we proceed to reflect on the death and Resurrection of Jesus, we

find that the compelling story of Sr. Thea Bowman shows that she was a

witness to this mystery of Christ. She bore her cross courageously and still

could sing alleluias from her wheelchair—living the Paschal Mystery every

day. Nearing the end of her life she said, “Let us stretch ourselves, going

beyond our comfort zones to unite ourselves with Christ’s redemptive work.

Let us break bread together. Let us relive the holy and redemptive mystery”

(quoted in Catholic News Service, “Sr. Thea Bowman’s Posthumous Plea:

Really Live Holy Week” [March 30, 1990]).