What’s the difference?

Sister Thea Bowman

Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA

By Sister Clare Bass

Recently I had the pleasure of hearing Sister Eva Marie Lumas, SSS speak about her dear friend Sister Thea Bowman, F.S.P.A. as part of the Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Church pilgrimage in the Year of Mercy. Sister Eva shared all about Sister Thea, the type of person she was and how her spirituality flowed from her core.  At her core, Thea Bowman knew she was God’s beloved and a sister to Jesus and this made a difference in her life. Sister Thea was a person of integrity in the same manner of Jesus. Sister Eva shared Thea revered Jesus so much because she saw the integrity in his death by crucifixion. For Thea this act ultimately showed that he was a ‘person willing to die if that was the right thing to do.’ One of Thea’s guiding principles, was “you don’t do things because they’re comfortable, you do things because they are right.” In this same manner she also revered Saint Thomas More, who also died a person of integrity. Saint Thomas More was a just man who stayed true to what he believed was right, much to the dismay of those who held power. He never wavered from his conscious which enraged his foes so much, they eventually killed him.


cover of book

Hearing all of this reminded me of my ethics course in college whereby we had to read two books: A Man for All Seasons, the play by Robert Bolt based on the story of Thomas More and The Special Prisoner, a novel by Jim Lehrer. The two books starkly contrast one another in style, but both pose moral and/or ethical dilemmas. In The Special Prisoner, two World War II veterans, one from the United States (U.S.) and one from Japan run into one another many years later. The U.S. man was at a camp at some point in the war and tortured by the Japanese man. The U.S. veteran went on to be a Methodist Bishop and all these years later is now confronted with an opportunity which poses the moral/ethical dilemma. (Spoiler alert) The man who professes to be a follower of Jesus as a Christian will not forgive the Japanese man and instead murders him. Conventional or societal wisdom will tell us that all Thomas More had to do was acknowledge a divorce, and a divorce is not that big of deal to die over. Conventional wisdom will also tell us that the U.S. veteran was getting even for the terror the other man caused him and so his action is justified. What difference does it make in our lives, for those of us who profess to believe in God and be a follower of Jesus? What’s the difference?

I know what I believe about God, Jesus, and the Spirit. I’m aware of what it means in my life, as well as my own shortcomings. Ultimately, I think each of us has to figure out our own answer to this question. I think it is found on our life journeys and is part of our journey. I know that our families, friends, and communities of faith which we call our own influence us and provide accountability on our paths. There is no one right or easy answer. Thinking and re-examining the answer to this question calls us and moves us forward as it is an ever-evolving process.

I believe that our vocational callings are intertwined with the answer to this question. Specifically, I think if you are discerning religious life the Charism and mission of each Congregation that you look at/talk to/research will be different. Each community will have their own sort of answer(s) to this question as they share what they are about with you. Try to be attentive to what is resonating in your heart as you listen to the past and present communal stories, communal prayers, and as people share their individual stories within community too. As you move along in your discernment one will emerge as a good fit for you. By saying “good fit for you” I mean there will eventually be a place where you feel you can be your best authentic self and where you feel at home. There is no timeline as to when this should happen, it will happen when you are ready.

As Sisters of St. Joseph we have a consensus statement which tells about who we are as a community.

The Consensus Statement of the Sisters of St. Joseph

Stimulated by the Holy Spirit of Love and receptive to God’s inspirations

The Sister of St. Joseph moves always towards profound love of God

And love of neighbor without distinction

From whom she does not separate herself and

For whom, in the following of Christ

She works in order to achieve unity

Of neighbor with neighbor

And neighbor with God

Directly in this apostolate and

Indirectly through works of charity

In humility- the Spirit of the Incarnate Word (Philippians 2:5-8)

In sincere charity- the manner of Saint Joseph whose name she bears

In an Ignatian-Salesian climate: that is with an orientation towards excellence

Tempered by gentleness, peace, joy.

One more thought before I sign off today, none of us are perfectly answering the question I posed earlier or are ‘doing life perfectly’ so to speak. I am and I like to think that all of us are trying our best. I will leave you with one more quote that I saw in a picture of Sister Thea, “Saints are sinners who kept on trying.”  Let’s all keep on trying! That can make all the difference in the world.

One thought on “What’s the difference?

  1. Mary Ann Hilgeman, CSJ says:

    I like your statement by Sister Thea Bowman. It reminds me of a remark I once heard: “A diamond is a piece of carbon that stays on the job.” Not quite the same message, but one similar. May all of us sinners be saints!
    Mary Ann


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