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Sister Thea Bowman Foundation seeks scholarship applicants, partners

Applications are open for a scholarship program supporting African-American high schoolers transitioning to higher education at Catholic schools.

PITTSBURGH — The Sister Thea Bowman Black Catholic Education Foundation is making its annual push to raise awareness of its scholarship program, as high school students around the country begin to receive acceptance letters from institutions of higher education.

Applications opened in January, and awards ranging from $5,000 to $7,500 are available for African-American students matriculating to an STBCE partner school and meeting the scholarship criteria.

“[The scholarship] is designed to awaken a hope in black students who have been conditioned by poverty,” reads a description on the foundation website.

“This awakening comes as an opportunity to receive a quality education at one of the many Catholic institutions of higher education.”

Since its formal establishment in 1989, the foundation has helped fund more than 250 African-American students in higher education at Catholic schools around the country, with support from donors as notable as the Pittsburgh Steelers—owned by the Catholic Rooney family.

It was first envisioned in 1984 by STBCE namesake and co-founder, the famed liturgist, speaker, educator, and Black Catholic religious sister Servant of God Thea Bowman.

The current slate of partner schools includes Assumption University and College of the Holy Cross, both in Worcester, Massachusetts; Boston College; the Catholic University of America in Washington DC; Duquesne University in Pittsburgh; DePaul University in Chicago; and Loyola University of Chicago.

Joe Barker II, the foundation’s first Black executive director, succeeded STBCE co-founder Mary Lou Jennings a year ago and is working to grow the list—citing the University of Notre Dame as a school he hopes will soon be added.

Also high on his list is Xavier University of Louisiana, the nation’s Catholic HBCU, which has educated African-American students specifically since its founding in 1925.

“[It’s] one of the first items on my agenda,” he said early last year.

“I know they would be a great fit for our students.”

Another initiative from Barker has been to secure funding and logistics for recipients of the scholarship to participate in a variety of supplemental activities, including mentorship, spiritual programming, and community service.

The foundation is donation-based and counts among its supporters the Black and Indian Mission Office, as well as the Knights of Columbus, the PNC Charitable Trust, and the Holy Ghost Fathers.

Others interested in supporting the foundation can do so here. Applications for the scholarship close on April 30th.


Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).


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