Category: Messages to Faculty, Messages to Staff, Messages to Students, Messages to the Community

Title: Honoring Sister Thea Bowman

Dear Members of the Georgetown University Community:

I write today to share an announcement regarding our chapel located within Copley Hall.

Under the direction of Fr. Mark Bosco, S.J., Ph.D., the Office of Mission and Ministry has undertaken work to reflect on the sacred spaces across our campuses and how we might support and enhance the context for our religious communities.

Over the past decade, we have been engaged in work to renovate our religious spaces, beginning with Dahlgren Chapel of the Sacred Heart in 2011. In recent years, we have renovated St. William Chapel, a home for our Catholic and Protestant communities, and Copley Crypt, a space for our Catholic and Orthodox Christian communities. We have dedicated the Dharmālaya, a Dharmic Meditation Center for our Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, and Sikh communities, and, to support our Muslim community, we moved our Muslim Prayer Space, the Masjid, to a new, larger location and established a dedicated Muslim prayer space on our Law Campus. In 2016, we installed a Torah Ark in the Makóm, a space for our Jewish community, and have plans to further enhance this space in the near future.

As we pursued these renovations, over 2020 and 2021, a committee of staff, students, and faculty met to propose names for our newly renovated chapel in Copley Hall, a consecrated Catholic chapel and spiritual home for our Protestant community.

Often referred to as St. William Chapel for St. William of Vercelli (1085-1142), the chapel was originally named The Cowardin Chapel of St. William, for William Reynolds Cowardin, S.J. (1849-1925). Historical records indicate that Fr. Cowardin was a student at Georgetown College, and later returned as a professor and chaplain. During the Civil War, he fought as a member of the Confederate Army.

With the growth of our Protestant community in recent decades and the renovations of the chapel, this was an important moment for us to consider how to best reflect the vibrant and diverse communities of faith that worship in this chapel and the values most important to our community.

Based on the recommendation of this committee, and a review by the Georgetown University Board of Directors, the chapel in Copley Hall will now be named in honor of Sister Thea Bowman, F.S.P.A., Ph.D. The chapel will now hold the formal name: Servant of God Sr. Thea Bowman Chapel of St. William. The term “Servant of God” is a designation in the Roman Catholic Church for a person whose life and work are being investigated for official recognition by the Pope as a saint . It is the first stage to professing Sr. Thea Bowman—born Bertha Elizabeth Bowman (1937-1990) in Canton, Mississippi—a saint.

In recommending Sr. Thea Bowman for the name of this chapel, the committee reflected on the contributions that she made during her lifetime: her vibrant Christian faith; her Protestant roots; her joining the Catholic community and the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration; her courage in calling the Catholic Church and our nation to more fully engage with Black Catholics and to reject racism; her own academic background and role in establishing scholarship around the Black Catholic experience; her embrace of music as a form of ministry; and her faith-filled service and witness in living the Gospel.

On Tuesday, May 3, at 4:00 PM we will commemorate this naming at an ecumenical service in the Servant of God Sr. Thea Bowman Chapel of St. William. We are honored to be joined by His Eminence Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, and representatives from the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. This service will be followed by a Dahlgren Dialogue at 6:00 PM  in Dahlgren Chapel of the Sacred Heart remembering the life and legacy of Sr. Thea.

I would like to thank the Office of Mission and Ministry and the committee for their efforts—for the thoughtfulness, care, and ecumenical spirit they brought to this work as we considered how to best name this sacred space. I look forward to welcoming our community to the Servant of God Sr. Thea Bowman Chapel in the days ahead.


John J. DeGioia