Thursday, January 10, 2008

Heinous Historical Meme

OK. Here is the response to the Meme LP tagged me for. The thing that makes this so hard is that a "historical figure" could literally be anyone from my great grandfather to Julius Caesar. And I don't really have a favorite one. I thought about writing about St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and Roberto Clemente, and Joan of Arc. Instead, I've chosen to write about someone more modern that most of you probably haven't heard of.

But first the rules:

1. Link to the person who tagged you
2. List 7 random/weird things about your favorite historical figure
3. Tag 7 more people at the end of your blog and link to theirs
4. Let the person know they have been tagged.

OK. Ready?

My person is Sr. Thea Bowman. I first encountered this woman in my Women in the Christian Tradition class in college (The only good thing to come out of that class is that I got to read about some remarkable women). I later encountered her again in this book of poetry, reflections, artwork and prayers about women in the Catholic church. The book was a little too...PC for my tastes (things like feminine references to the first person of the Trinity and the Holy Spirit, etc. I'm generally not a traditionalist when it comes to these things, but I like my references to God either masculine or neutral, and the Holy Spirit just neutral.), but the artwork was great and some of the biographical stuff was really interesting.

So seven things (not really random or weird)

1. Sr. Thea was born in Yazoo, MS, raised Methodist, and became a Roman Catholic at the age of 9 after her parents sent her to Catholic school because, after 5 years in the public school system, she still couldn't read (remember, segregated schools were still a reality in the South, and the schools for African Americans got virtually no funding or attention).

2. At the age of 15, she entered the convent for the order of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Perpetual Adoration. After a 16 year teaching career, the Bishop of Jackson, MS asked her to join his staff as a consultant for Intercultural Awareness.

3. Sister Thea spoke throughout the world on the subject of cultural sensitivity, religion, and faith. She was not an assimilationist, but rather believed that we should embrace our differences and learn from each other. In 1990, as she was approaching the end of her life, Sr. Thea was invited to speak at the U.S. Catholic Bishop's conference on Black Catholics. She challeged the Bishops to do more to celebrate the unique gifts and culture of African American Catholics. By the end of her talk, many of the Bishops and other clergy present were moved to tears.

4. In 1984, Sister Thea was diagnosed with breast cancer, that eventually spread into her bones. She prayed to, "to live until I die—to live fully," and she did, continuing to speak all over the world from a wheelchair (including at the aforementioned Bishops conference).

5. Sr. Thea had a special relationship with Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers. They met in 1985 at Viterbo College (now University), where both were receiving the Pope John XXIII award for Distinguished Service. They became fast friends, and as Sr. Thea's condition deteriorated, it was Rooney who have her her wheelchair, which she cristened her "Steeler-Mobile."

6. Sr. Thea was the first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in Theology from Boston College. She was a strong advocate for education, and there are schools named in her honor throughout the country, especially in the South and in poor, inner city neighborhoods. There are also scholarship funds established in her name at Catholic Universities and diocese throughout the country designed to help young, struggling, African American students to continue their education.

Sister Thea also had a Ph. D. in English Literature, and her area of specialization was the works of William Faulkner.

7. The epitaph on her tombstone reads, "Sr. Thea, 1937-1990, She Tried."

There is currently a fairly active movement within the U.S. to advance her cause for Sainthood. I don't know where that is going at the moment, since Pope Benedict the (I can't remember his number) seems not as...enthusiastic about beatifying and canonizing as Pope John Paul II did.

If you want to read more about Sr. Thea, her order has several pages devoted to her here. And for LP, because I know you appreciate icons, here is an icon of her that one of the sisters in her order wrote.

As far as tagging goes...well, I'd sure like to see TG's, Amy's and Tim's answers.

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