One week ago, the Catholic community lost an important teacher, mentor, and biblical scholar. Sr. Barbara Bowe, RSCJ returned home to God last Sunday, March 14, 2010. I knew Barbara as professor, advisor, and travel companion. A kind spirit with a sharp intellect and a deep love for sacred scripture, Barbara was a genuine teacher who truly cared about her students.
I think Barbara would have whole-heartedly supported this project on the single life, and it is for this reason I miss her most today.
Upon graduating from Catholic Theological Union in 2007, I had the great privilege of traveling with a group of students to the Holy Land. Barbara served as tour guide and retreat master for this two-week pilgrimage. One of the highlights of the trip was our stop at the Jordan River where we took time to remember our baptismal promises. Barbara invited each of us to voice in our own words, the promises made at our baptism and to reaffirm our commitment to ministry. This opportunity to share my “call story” was a defining moment for me as I truly accepted God’s invitation to preach, teach, and lead others in a gospel way of life.
Several weeks after the trip, I received an email from Barbara thanking me for my participation and inquiring about the statement I voiced during our prayer service at the Jordan River.
My reason for connecting is to tell you how much I enjoyed being with you in Israel … I was particularly moved, Beth, by your sharing at our baptismal renewal at the Jordan at Yardenit … and something you said that day makes me want to say to this — if religious life is a viable option to consider in your future — I would be happy to talk with you and have you consider the Religious of the Sacred Heart. If that option is not even remotely on your computer screen … then it is our loss.
I was flattered and grateful for her invitation. It was not the first time, and surely will not be the last time, that someone suggested I consider religious life. Barbara extended this invitation with absolute sincerity and without any expectation of what my response should or ought to be. In return, I felt completely free to be honest with her. I explained that with much prayer and discernment, I have found a tremendous and ever deepening call to life as a single person. While I continue to hold open the possibility of religious life, and even marriage, I don’t see either one of those happening anytime soon. Several weeks later, I received an equally generous and affirming reply.
Your clarity of mind and heart speaks volumes of a spirit-filled call to be who you are. Who could wish anything other for our friends? Of course, I am happy to be a sounding board for you at any point as you continue to respond to God’s action in your life.
Barbara’s invitation for further conversation crossed my mind many times over these past two and half years. Life gets busy. School, travel, and work took up both our time, and our conversation never took place. Our last email exchange occurred in late September 2009.
Barbara agreed to write a short blurb for the back cover of my first book Finding My Voice: A Young Woman’s Perspective. When I wrote to express my thanks, she confessed to only skimming the manuscript and looked forward to reading the entire work. She was dealing with a variety of health challenges and decided to take a medical leave for the Fall semester. A few weeks later she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.
I wish Barbara were here to see this next project into fruition. My desire to write a book on the single life is the result of much discernment and flows from that same call about which Barbara and I briefly spoke. There is so much more to be said, and I wish she were here to listen.
In Barbara’s own words, I wish to express my hope for anyone who stumbles upon this blog and the book that will follow. To all those who wonder about what it means to be single and how this fits into God’s call for your life: May God grace you with the clarity of mind and heart that speaks volumes of a spirit-filled call to be who you are. Who could wish anything other for our friends?
Thank you Barbara for believing in God’s unique call to each one of us, for creating the space to bless and affirm that call, and for inviting countless students to discover the holy places where God dwells. May you rest in peace.