What does it mean to be Black and Catholic? It means that I come to my Church fully functioning. That doesn’t frighten you, does it? I come to my Church fully functioning. I bring myself, my Black self, all that I am, all that I have, all that I hope to become, I bring my whole history, my traditions, my experience, my culture, my African American song and dance and gesture and movement and teaching and preaching and healing and responsibility as a gift to the Church.
Bowman said this after having survived a pattern of racism and racialized abuse from her own religious community that probably would have compelled others to turn away not only from their vocation, but also from the Church entirely. Her biographers describe how she was often treated as a novelty instead of a person, and recount how at the age of sixteen she was told by older sisters in her community that “Black people go to nigger heaven together with the dogs and other animals.”
We all need to be reminded of Sr. Thea Bowman’s witness and her work—those of us who bear the wounds of racism and those who inflict them. It matters who we choose to honor in public spaces, both as a society and a Church. It matters who we choose to celebrate. Currently, there are no Black saints from the United States. That could change, and it needs to: Bowman is one of several Black Americans under consideration for canonization. Naming a building for her and championing her cause for canonization solidifies her legacy and ensures that she is known not only among Black Catholics, but also among all Catholics. Better still, it extols the bravery required to unwind the racism that is woven into our Church.
Source: Commonweal Magazine