In conclusion of Black History Month, the St. Sebastian's Community gathered for the annual Black History Month Assembly on Friday, February 26. Students and faculty tuned in from classrooms while the program was live streamed from the Chapel. Fr. John Arens opened with a prayer and then Meyer Chambers took the podium to speak about Sister Thea Bowman. Born a Methodist in Yazoo City, Mississippi, Sister Thea fell in love with the Catholic Church as a child, converting at age nine, and at age 15, joining the Franciscan Sister of the Perpetual Adoration. She dedicated her life to spreading the joy of the Gospel and promoting cultural awareness and racial reconciliation.
Mr. Chambers shared a story about his various encounters with Sister Thea and her legacy. In 1980, when he was a young graduate student at Xavier University in New Orleans, he knew he was in the presence of someone great when she walked into a chapel where he was practicing at the piano. The entire time they spoke, he recalls thinking to himself “who is this woman?” Over the course of 40 years, her name came up in several conversations, and each time this same sentiment was mirrored by others. As it turns out, he’d met a Roman Catholic Saint in the making.
A video clip was then shared of Sister Thea addressing the U.S. Bishops shortly before her death in 1989. She explained what it meant to be African-American and Catholic and enlightened the bishops on African-American history and spirituality: “I come to my church fully functioning. I bring my black self, all that I am, all that I have, all that I hope to become. I bring my whole history, my traditions, my experience, my culture, my African-American song and dance and gesture and movement and teaching and preaching and healing and responsibility.”
Headmaster Bill Burke closed out the program with remarks about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his now famous letter from a Birmingham jail in 1963. He shared some of the powerful words from that letter, encouraging all students to read it. “Black history is our history because we are one and we have so much to learn from one another,” observed Headmaster Burke. “And our nation is far from healed. And we have to believe that Dr. Martin Luther King and Sister Thea Bowman had had the right answers. It's about cooperating with grace. It's about gospel values being human values. It's about doing the right thing. It's about achieving peace through peace, and it's about promoting antiviolence.”