31 October 2016

Return from Retreat with Brother Mickey McGrath OSFS: An Introduction to Sister Thea Bowman

This weekend I was privileged to be able to attend a retreat themed "Wise and Holy Women" given by Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS at San Damiano. (My pastor, also an Oblate of Saint Francis de Sales, and my parish picked up the tab for this terrific surprise; it was simply wonderful and I am hoping to share more of it here in time.) As a discrete and additional piece of the weekend, however, a separate but related session, Brother Mickey presented the story of Franciscan Sister Thea Bowman (FSPA) organized around a series of paintings he had done. They include some of those illustrations placed throughout this blog piece.

In the course of this presentation Brother Mickey told the story of Sister Thea's speech at the USCCB in 1989. Sister Thea, dying of breast cancer which had metastasized to her bones, had agreed to do the talk while in remission from significant pain. Then, the morning she was scheduled to leave for the talk her pain returned. She decided to proceed anyway since she had promised to be there and to contribute to a presentation on the reality and experience of Black Catholics in the Universal Church. Sister, a PhD in English Literature and Linguistics, was in a wheel chair; she was too fragile to stand, was in agonizing pain whenever she was touched, and, because the place she was to give her speech was not accessible to those with disabilities, had to be lifted in a chair to the stage.

She began her presentation characterizing her own feelings about being an African American Catholic by singing, Sometimes I feel like a motherless Child. From that moment on one knows one is in the presence of someone alive with the grace and holiness of God. It is an electrifying moment, especially considering her physical condition, and the speech itself is electrifying and inspiring beyond describing. The Bishops themselves (well, most of them) clearly felt similarly. I have included a copy of the video below. If you have not seen it before you simply must do so. To see an educated, articulate, and faith-filled woman Religious calling, chiding, chivvying (gently and with humor) and encouraging brother Catholics and Bishops to be the shepherds of the genuinely Universal Church they are called to be, as well as to see them responding with joy and tears is incredibly powerful. (Only in some cases was serious incomprehension and even resistance also evident!) The video included below is not as good as one available on You Tube (you will need to bear with a kind of fragmented beginning or begin about 5 minutes in) but it is more complete and therefore in some ways more powerful. It includes Sister Thea's introductory song and gives glimpses of the process of getting her to the stage. I hope you enjoy it and are inspired by it as much as I was.

Sr. Thea Bowman, Speech to US Catholic Bishops, 1989.

By the way, Brother Mickey has published a book on Sister Thea which includes the series of paintings referred to above. It is called This Little Light and reflects on the life lessons taught by Thea Bowman. (While it is available on Kindle I would personally suggest one consider instead the hardcover version because an ordinary kindle cannot do justice to the wonderful art which is so central to the book. A Kindle Fire on the other hand might be an excellent way to go though.)

N.B: For those interested in Brother Mickey's paintings, prints, cards, etc., please check with Clear Faith publishing and Embraced By God.org. For those interested in a print-on-demand solution to something you might have seen of Brother Mickey's, please check with Trinity Stores.com. They will do various kinds and sizes of framed prints (including Giclee and prints on wood panels) and also will print on ceramic, clothes, etc.