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Sr. Thea’s Vow to “Live until I Die”

Servant of God Sr. Thea Bowman (1937–90) was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1984. Vowing to “live until I die,” she continued her rigorous schedule of speaking engagements. Even when it became increasingly difficult as the cancer moved to her bones, Thea would not stop being a witness for the Lord.

Thea’s big, bright eyes drew people to her. She had a spiritual vision that saw both joy and sorrow in her fifty-two years of life, eyes that observed the best in people, eyes that gave us hope for ourselves and hope for the Church. She had eyes that remained strong as her body grew weak from the debilitating disease. Yet Thea continued to witness to what she had seen for as long as she had a voice to speak.

Thea Bowman’s words inspired and empowered generations of people across creeds, cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, academic achievement, and spiritual experiences. Her voice simultaneously challenged, encouraged, and instilled hope—in essence, it was a clarion call to make Christ present in all we say and do.

Sr. Thea Bowman, in her own words:

“I think that cancer causes one to re-evaluate priorities. You begin to have some very different perceptions about what’s important in life and what isn’t important. Many things that I used to worry about, I realize don’t matter anymore. I find myself more patient and more tolerant of small things. I think I have a different sense of time. I think all my relationships, including my relationship to God, are most important to me.

“I worry about the kinds of personality changes that come with illness. If I can’t deal with it, I sing. I find that…if I can sing, I can cope.

“I went through a struggle in the beginning: I didn’t know what to pray for; I didn’t know how to approach it. A part of my upbringing has said I want to make heaven my home, and this world is not my home, and I want to go home. And when I first found that I had cancer, I was told by a doctor that I might have a few months or maybe a few years to live. I thought that might be neat, go home, be free. But my friends and my students and people who loved me convinced me that there was more to living than dying. And I came to a place in my own life where my prayer has been, ‘Lord, let me live until I die.’ I don’t know what that means, but what it means doesn’t really matter in terms of time. What I say is I want to live fully, I want to give fully. I want to be the best person I can be during the time that I have.”

Text adapted from Thea Bowman: In My Own Words, compiled and edited by Maurice J. Nutt, CSsR, © 2015 (Liguori Publications, 826238).

Also see the DVD Almost Home: Living with Suffering and Dying,
© 2009 (Liguori Publications, 817878).

To order, visit or call 800-325-9521.

Published inReflections