Art imitates life: Actress MaHalia Calvert portrays civil rights icon Dr. Flonzie Wright in ABC’s Sister Thea Bowman documentary

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Sister Thea Bowman

Art will imitate life in the upcoming October 30th ABC documentary “Going Home Like A Shooting Star,” a historical film on the servant’s life of Sister Thea Bowman.

Sister Thea Bowman and Dr. Flonzie Brown Wright were childhood best friends when they attended school in Canton, Mississippi.  According to Brown Wright, “Growing up, me and Mamie Chinn knew her as Bertha Elizabeth Bowman long before she became Sister Thea Bowman, F.S.P.A. We were best friends growing up in Canton. We walked to Holy Child Jesus Catholic Church and School in Canton and spent many days at each other’s home playing with our dolls and eating meals together. Our parents were great friends. Her parents and I were stunned when Bertha said she wanted to leave home and go to La Crosse, Wisconsin at 15 years old to become a nun. Bertha’s leaving Canton was bittersweet for me and her parents because her parents knew that she would never get married and have their grandchildren, and I was hurt because I was losing my best friend, or so I thought.”

Jackson native and Kirksey Middle School 8th grader and business owner, MaHalia Calvert, will portray Brown Wright, who was the first African American female election commissioner elected (1968) during the Jim Crow Era in Canton, Mississippi.

Brown Wright said, “Young Miss MaHalia Calvert was the first and only person that came to mind when producer, writer, and researcher Sister Judith Zielinski, OSF asked me who I wanted to play me in the Sister Thea Bowman documentary. I met MaHalia at a school day Black History program when she recited a poem of mine when she was younger. She is a beautiful Christian young lady, and her personality reminds me of myself. It was somewhat bittersweet again when I saw her acting during the intimate scenes that depicted the close friendship and special moments Bertha/Sister Thea and I shared as children.  I wanted to become a nun too, but our lives went in different directions. However, we always stayed in close contact as time and space permitted during her journey to become a nun.”  

MaHalia Calvert is the daughter of Pastor Maurice and Dr. Lashunda Calvert. She is the 13-year-old owner of Mae Mae’s Super Bakes, which specializes in cheesecakes and cupcakes. Her business name derives from her nickname, “Mae Mae.” MaHalia says, “I started watching Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli on YouTube. I liked the way she cooks, and her food looks really good.” 

Calvert’s acting credits go back to 3rd and 4th grade when she began singing in Black History programs and depicting Dr. Flonzie Brown Wright in Black History plays. She participates in the choir at Restoration Church and is a member of the Kirksey Middle School concert and marching band as an alto saxophonist. Jackson’s own Chef Nick Wallace of Nick Wallace Culinary, Inc., Top Chef series contestant, and Chopped chef winner (2017) has agreed to meet MaHalia and possibly allow her to shadow him where he is the executive chef at the Nissan Café inside the Two Mississippi Museums in downtown Jackson.

The ABC documentary titled “Going Home Like A Shooting Star” was drawn from a quotation attributed to Sojourner Truth. The quotation was paraphrased by Sister Thea when asked what she wanted said at her funeral… “I’m not going to die; I’m going home like a shooting star.” During her funeral, Brown Wright sang “Zion’s Hill,” a favorite song of Sister Thea. 

Bowman was born the daughter of middle-aged parents Dr. Theon Bowman, M.D. and Mary Esther Bowman, a school teacher often referring to herself as an “Old Folks Child.” She converted to Catholicism via the inspiration of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity who taught her at Holy Child Jesus Church and School in Canton, Mississippi.

The ABC documentary “Going Home Like a Shooting Star: Thea Bowman’s Journey to Sainthood” from NewGroup Media and the Diocese of Jackson will air on (WAPT) October 30, 2022 at 1:00 p.m. The documentary will air on ABC stations nationwide during the month of October and November and is free on YouTube.

Co-producer Father Maurice Nutt said of Sister Thea Bowman, “She was faithful and free.”  That personification of her perseverance in her struggle for civil rights, gender equality, and overt and covert racism within the Catholic Church and community is apropos. And Bowman was able to achieve this while spreading the good news of the Gospel, never losing her cultural identity, always exemplifying and expressing the history of her African American ancestors, and learning and teaching with special regard for the poor and needy.

Sister Thea Bowman died of breast cancer at her childhood home in Canton, Mississippi (March 30, 1990) and was buried beside her parents and uncle at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis with the word “Faith” inscribed on her tombstone.  Her last public words were, “I want people to remember that I tried to love the Lord and that I tried to love them.” Sister Thea Bowman taught the world how to be a Black Catholic.

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Art imitates life: Actress MaHalia Calvert portrays civil rights icon Dr. Flonzie Wright in ABC’s Sister Thea Bowman documentary

By Brinda Fuller Willis
October 24, 2022