On Tuesday afternoon, the University of San Diego will rename a campus plaza in honor of Servant of God Thea Bowman, a pioneering Black religious sister, liturgist, and scholar whose work once touched the city.
Taking place between the Copley Library and Learning Commons, the ceremony is being sponsored by the school’s Mission Integration Office, Center for Inclusion and Diversity, and the Department of Theology and Religious Studies.
The news of the renaming comes less than two months after the university hosted the 2022 Black Catholic Theological Symposium, of which Bowman was a member during her life. The BCTS’ past convener Fr Maurice Nutt, CSsR, who took part in this year’s event, assists with Bowman’s cause for canonization, opened by the Diocese of Jackson in 2018.
That same year, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops voted unanimously to support the cause at their annual fall assembly. Present at that meeting was Bishop John P. Dolan, then an auxiliary for the Diocese of San Diego, which founded USD.
At the fall 2021 USCCB meeting, Dolan threw his own support behind Bowman’s cause and those of the five other African Americans on the path to sainthood, encouraging his fellow prelates to “up the ante” in their efforts to promote them.
The San Diego diocese is also home to Bishop Robert W. McElroy, the nation’s newest cardinal—appointed to the post in August ahead of several stateside archbishops (including multiple in California). He has long been noted as a supporter of social justice and local Black Catholics.
One parish serving as a hub for that community, Christ the King Catholic Church, is scheduled to dedicate plaques to Bowman and the other venerated African Americans later this month, on the parish’s patronal feast day of November 20.
Thea Bowman’s own history in San Diego dates back to the late 1980s, when she came to the city to speak at the National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministry toward the end of her life, part of a robust speaking schedule she maintained late in life despite a terminal cancer diagnosis. She would die from the disease in 1990 at the age of 52.
Today, despite being at just the first stage of the sainthood process, and the most recently opened of the six African-American causes, Bowman’s is perhaps the most active. Her legacy likely includes more renamings than any of the others—including, among various others, seven schools; an apartment complex in Washington state; a street, chapel, and homeless shelter in DC; and numerous university centers across the country.
Bowman has also been the subject of multiple documentaries, including two released this year. The first, “A Place at the Table”, covered the Saintly Six all together and was released by Stella Maris Films. More recently, “Going Home Like a Shooting Star” from NewGroup Media focused on Bowman specifically and premiered on ABC stations and YouTube last month.
Tuesday’s renaming at USD is scheduled for 4pm PT and is likely to take place indoors due to rain. In that scenario, the venue will be the Town Square inside the Learning Commons.
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).