FOLLOW UP to WATERmeditation

“Truth and Reconciliation: Religion, Racism, and the Legacy of
Sister Thea Bowman”

with Cheryl Nichols

Monday, September 11, 2023 7:30 PM EDT

Video can be found at:

WATER thanks Cheryl Nichols for leadership on the pressing topic of racism in church and society. Her brief glimpse of Sr. Thea Bowman launched our communal contemplative silence and subsequent responses.


Cheryl Nichols is a regular participant in these sessions. She is a teacher by vocation, retired now from that and university work, but she continues tutoring and teaching English to newly arrived people in the U.S. She is active at the St. Camillus Food Pantry in Silver Spring, Maryland, and helps out in many ways at WATER. She is close to the Religious of Jesus and Mary and a participant, when it was safer, in their work in Haiti. Cheryl is a stalwart member of the DC-based women-church group Sisters against Sexism or SAS. Mainly, she is a dear friend to me and to many.

Cheryl focused on the vibrant legacy of Sister Thea Bowman, an icon of American Catholicsm and a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration

Cheryl’s notes follow:

Meditation on Sister Thea Bowman

  • For tonight’s meditation, I would like us to reflect on the sin of racism within our churches, not only historically but also in the present. In Saturday 9/2 /23 Washington Post newly released data from Pew Research Center revealed that White Christians were most likely to say the claims about non-existent racial discrimination was the biggest problem in our divisions over race in the U.S.: 72% Christian Evangelicals; 60% Catholics; 54% of mainline Protestant churches.
  • Background on Unlearning White Supremacy and the role of the Christian Church and the Doctrine of Discovery
  • Participation in FutureChurch reading of Subversive Habits last summer and the racism within women’s religious communities
  • Parish celebration of Black Catholic History month (2022) and featuring the Black Catholic men and women proposed for canonization in the Catholic Church; for me Sr. Thea Bowman was the most familiar
  • I had seen her talk to the Bishops’ Conference in 1989 and recently watched the movie of her life produced by the Diocese of Jackson, MS, which is available on YouTube
  • So let’s reflect on her words, which remain so relevant today—that Black American (Catholic) culture is vibrant and celebratory and has so much to contribute to us:

From the video:

“I bring myself; my Black self, all that I am, all that I have, all that I hope to become,” Sister Thea told the U.S. bishops in a famous 1989 address. “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 gifts to the church. I bring a spirituality that our Black American bishops told us (they just told us what everybody who knew, knew), that spirituality is contemplative and Biblical and holistic, bringing to religion a totality of mind and imaginations, of memory, of feeling and passion, and emotion and intensity. A faith that is embodied, incarnate praise – a spirituality that knows how to find joy even in the time of sorrow – that steps out on faith that leans on the Lord.”


Sr. Thea Bowman’s Address to U.S. Bishops:

“Going Home Like a Shooting Star: Thea Bowman’s Journey to Sainthood”


Many insightful responses followed the silence. Among the many points raised were:

— Personal reactions to having met/known Thea Bowman

— Contrasts between Thea Bowman’s way of being and that of the predominantly white U.S. Catholic Bishops whom she inspired to more humane behavior

— Efforts by many groups to eradicate racism and the enormous work it will take both in church and society

–The deep non-violent peace building in which Thea Bowman engaged

–The many voices of women and the many women saints abroad in the universe

Resources shared generously by participants:

From Mary Rehmann:

  1. National Catholic Reporter, August 11, 2023, Guest Voices: “Before we talk about polarization, we need to talk about repentance” by Rebecca Bratten Weiss:
  2. Related on the racism and global warming issue: Sierra, June 8, 2020, “Racism Is Killing the Planet” by Hop Hopkins: The ideology of white supremacy leads the way toward disposable people and a disposable natural world:

From Gail DeGeorge:

  1. Global Sisters Report, ‘Our reckoning’: US sisters take up call to examine their role in systemic racism
  2. Global Sisters Report, Sustainable Development Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities,
  3. Column by Shannen Dee Williams in National Catholic Reporter: The church must make reparation for its role in slavery, segregation. A profile on Shannen Dee Williams:

From others:

  1. Washington, DC monthly mass with woman priest:
  2. Book about Georgetown University’s history of slavery: Swans, Rachel L. The 272: The Families Who Were Enslaved and Sold to Build the American Catholic Church. New York, NY: Random House, 2023.See also late reporting on reparations fund (posted after our conversation):
  1. Book on women saints: Espín, Oliva M. Women, Sainthood, and Power: A Feminist Psychology of Cultural Constructions. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2020.
  2. Erie Benedictine Podcasts, Carolyn Gorny-Kopkowski:
  3. From Kitty Madden: Fromherz, Frank and Suzanne Sattler, No Guilty Bystander: The Extraordinary Life of Bishop Thomas Gumbleton. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2023.