Rev. Daniel R. J. Joyce

We may need saints now more than ever. Every day, news feeds give updates on horrific wars, the dysfunction of Congressional leadership and now reports on the nation’s 487th mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine. We may need to look beyond the living to grasp wisdom and summon some sense of hope amid so much loss.

For many Christians, All Saints Day is a month of remembrance of those who have gone before us and who now live in a full communion of life with God. I find myself calling upon the inspiring lives of people long gone as a helpful way to deal with today’s problems. Recalling the lives of inspiring people who have endured and overcome suffering and misunderstanding and have changed the world for the better may be our best encouragement.

One such inspiration is the life of Sister Thea Bowman, a Franciscan nun and powerful agent of cultural inclusion and respect. Although she died over 30 years ago, her life, words and spirit are increasingly calling young people to hope through activism and leadership amid troubled times.

Saint Joseph’s University is recalling the life of Sister Bowman in a unique and lasting way by honoring her life and naming its new first-year residence hall in her honor. On the feast of All Saints, SJU is joining with the National Black Catholic Congress to promote the inclusion of Sister Thea Bowman, and five other outstanding African American Catholics, on their path to official recognition as saints in the Roman Catholic Church.

On the lawn of what was once the residence for generations of Church leaders will stand a college residence for over 500 young people who will live and study under the heavenly patronage of a woman who was a powerful agent for including African American culture in the Catholic Church. Saints are seen as intercessors with God for the needs of the present. Sister Thea Bowman was born the grandchild of once enslaved citizens in the racially segregated South and was the only African American member of her religious order of Franciscan nuns. She spent her life advocating and challenging the U.S. Catholic Church to celebrate and embrace the unique spiritual gifts of her people. Her life was cut short by cancer, but her legacy and life live on in the many ways that young people see her as a present-day example of activist hope and a life well lived. Praying with Sister Bowman in the eternal communion of the saints may be the best inspiration for responding to our current difficulties.

So, as you put away the ghoulish decorations of Halloween, look to the celebration of the eternal lives of the saints whose inspiration may be our best resource for hope and action.


Rev. Daniel R. J. Joyce, S.J. ’88, is the Vice President of Mission and Ministry at Saint Joseph’s University. He also serves as the Director of the Alliance for Catholic Education at Saint Joseph’s University education fellows program and as an adjunct professor in the theology and religious studies department.