The Courage to Die Well

These days the media has been focused, at least in the UK, on the tragic death of Jade Goody, a reality TV celebrity, who when diagnosed with cancer decided to live her final days and last moments as a media event. One thinks of others who lived their final illness more or less publicly; Pope John Paul II comes to mind. Different ways of living the journey to death in public. Father Richard McBrien in his modern Lives of the Saints reminds us of another public figure whose day of death is commemorated later this week. Sr. Thea Bowman (1937-90).

Sr. Thea Bowman, Franciscan Sister

Sr. Thea Bowman, Franciscan Sister

Sr. Thea was an African American Franciscan, who helped to found the Institute of Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University in New Orleans. The institute became the base for her many lectures and workshops around the country.

In 1984, the same year that Fr. Rahner died, Sr. Thea learned that she had breast cancer. Nevertheless she continued her speaking and her travels, and in the process contributed to the ongoing transformation of the Catholic church in the United States.

Toward the end of her life, she had become bald from her chemotherapy treatments and was confined to a wheelchair. Her prayer in her remaining years was: “Lord, let me live until I die,” that is, “to live, love, and serve fully until death comes.”

“I don’t make sense of suffering,” she once said, “I try to make sense of life.”

Saints are primarily exemplars, not intercessors.

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