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Sister Francesca Thompson

Sister Francesca Thompson was born on April 29, 1932, in Los Angeles, California. Thompson’s parents were Evelyn Preer and Edward Thompson, who were founding members of the Lafayette Players in 1915. Her mother died at age thirty-five, when Thompson was just seven months old. Her father and grandmother raised her in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her lower middle class upbringing was atypical. Thompson’s grandmother, Susan Knox, was a Democratic ward captain, so Thompson was exposed to the city’s politicians, clergymen and judges who visited their home. Her father’s friends, who included such entertainment luminaries as Paul Robeson, Ruby Dee, and Eubie Blake, also influenced her.

Though raised in the African Episcopal Church, Thompson became attracted to Catholicism while attending St. Mary’s Academy, which in the 1940s was the only private secondary school in Indianapolis that would accept African Americans. Won over by the ritual and the drama of the Catholic faith, Thompson joined the Sisters of St. Francis of Odenburg, Indiana, in 1952. She received her B.A. degree in 1960 from Marian College and her M.A. degree in education from Xavier University. Thompson earned her PhD degree in speech and drama from the University of Michigan, writing her thesis on the Lafayette Players. She coached several budding actors while at the University of Michigan, including Gilda Radner and Christine Lahti.

Her doctoral dissertation helped Thompson become chairperson of the Drama/Speech Department at Marian College, where she taught from 1966 to 1982. In 1982, she began a twenty-four year association at Fordham University, where she was associate professor of African and African American Studies and assistant dean/director for Multicultural Programs. Thompson has celebrated her fiftieth anniversary as a Sister of St. Francis. She has twice served as a member of the prestigious nominating committee for Broadway’s Tony Awards, and has been inducted to The College of Fellows of the American Theatre. In 2002, Thompson received an honorary doctorate of fine arts at Fordham University’s 157th commencement.

Thompson resides in New York City.

Accession Number

A2006.107

Sex

Female

Interview Date

10/3/2006

Last Name

Thompson

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

St. Mary's Academy

Marian University

Xavier University

University of Michigan

First Name

Francesca

Birth City, State, Country

Los Angeles

HM ID

THO11

Favorite Season

Spring

State

California

Favorite Vacation Destination

Assisi, Italy

Favorite Quote

My God And My All.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

4/29/1932

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chitlins, Lobster

Short Description

Religious leader Sister Francesca Thompson (1932 - ) was an associate professor of African and African American studies and Director of Multicultural Programs at Fordham University, and was formerly chairperson of the Drama/Speech Department at Marian College. A Sister of St. Francis for over fifty years, she has been inducted to The College of Fellows of the American Theatre, and twice served on the nominating committee for Broadway’s Tony Awards.

Employment

Marian University

Fordham University

University of Michigan

Favorite Color

Red

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Sister Francesca Thompson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Sister Francesca Thompson lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Sister Francesca Thompson describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Sister Francesca Thompson recalls researching her parents' acting careers, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Sister Francesca Thompson recalls researching her parents' acting careers, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Sister Francesca Thompson describes the founding of the Anita Bush Players, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Sister Francesca Thompson describes the founding of the Anita Bush Players, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Sister Francesca Thompson talks about her mother's work with Clarence Muse

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Sister Francesca Thompson remembers interviewing Clarence Muse

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Sister Francesca Thompson describes the Lafayette Players' productions

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Sister Francesca Thompson describes how her mother became an actress

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Sister Francesca Thompson recalls how her father joined the Lafayette Players, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Sister Francesca Thompson recalls how her father joined the Lafayette Players, pt.2

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Sister Francesca Thompson talks about her mother's death

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Sister Francesca Thompson describes her father's career after her mother died

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Sister Francesca Thompson describes her paternal family's role in Indianapolis, Indiana

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Sister Francesca Thompson recalls growing up in Indianapolis

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Sister Francesca Thompson recalls attending St. Mary's Academy

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Sister Francesca Thompson remembers her conversion to Catholicism

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Sister Francesca Thompson recalls her decision to join the convent

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Sister Francesca Thompson recalls her admission into the convent

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Sister Francesca Thompson recalls her family's response to her initiation as a nun

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Sister Francesca Thompson recalls the Leadership Conference of Religious Women

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Sister Francesca Thompson describes her experience of race in the Catholic church

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Sister Francesca recalls attending Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Sister Francesca Thompson recalls how she came to teach at Fordham University

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Sister Francesca Thompson talks about her faith

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Sister Francesca Thompson talks about her retirement from Fordham University

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Sister Francesca Thompson describes the highlights of her teaching career

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Sister Francesca Thompson describes the Office of African American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native Americans at Fordham University

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Sister Francesca Thompson remembers her drama course, Shades of Value, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Sister Francesca Thompson remembers her drama course, Shades of Value, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Sister Francesca Thompson recalls her most rewarding moment as an educator

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Sister Francesca Thompson recalls serving on the Tony Awards Administration Committee

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Sister Francesca Thompson recalls being featured in The New York Times, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Sister Francesca Thompson recalls being featured in The New York Times, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Sister Francesca Thompson talks about African Americans in theater

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Sister Francesca Thompson describes her hopes for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Sister Francesca Thompson describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Sister Francesca Thompson narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

2$2

DATitle
Sister Francesca Thompson describes how her mother became an actress
Sister Francesca Thompson recalls her decision to join the convent
Transcript
How had your mother [Evelyn Preer] become a professional actress?$$All right. When she--according to my father [Edward Thompson], she was always interested in performing, even when she was in high school. And there was some little musical group that she had joined and they even traveled. And there was a black man who, Frank Preer, owned a big nightclub in Chicago [Illinois] and he hired her to sing for him. And I guess he was enthralled with her and asked her to marry him. So--'cause her mother was, my grandmother [Blanche Jarvis] was an Apostolic. She helped by street preaching to build Chicago's first black Apostolic church. And my mother, who could cry on cue, was her biggest asset. They'd stand on street corners, my father said, and my mother would--her grandmo- her mother would say, "Sinners come home, come home to Jesus," at which point my mother would start to cry. So Frank Preer saw her, enamored of her and hired her to work in this night club. And Oscar Micheaux was a friend of his. He brought Oscar Micheaux to see her and of course, he, "I--I want you in the movies," and she had to ask her mother for permission. And her mother, you know, was devastated 'cause that--Apa- Apostolics didn't go to the theater. No makeup, no nothing. And she said two things I ask you, don't ever go on stage smoking Evelyn and don't, for God's sake, please don't take off your clothes. So she got permission. But I don't know how long she was married to Frank Preer, but evident--my father said it was just a--I think to keep her mother happy 'cause she was going off with this man. They never had children or whatever. And so it wasn't very long after she did this movie 'Within Our Ga--.' No there was a movie before 'Within Our Gates.' 'Within Our Gates' was 1920. So she did her first movie in 1919. Then 'Within Our Gates' which is the only extant movie of hers with Oscar Micheaux. She starred in eleven of his nineteen movies [sic.], and the only one we have left is 'Within Our Gates' and that was found by a white movie historian researcher. He was in Spain a few years ago and he saw it in what was comparable I guess to their Library of Congress. And he made a switch with them. They'd give him something if he'd get something for them. So that's how--and then of course people got in touch with me. He gave it to the Library of Congress [Washington, D.C.] and I have my own copy now. But they did a showing of it at Lincoln Center [Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York, New York] a few years ago, maybe ten years ago now. The time goes so fast and that was a big thrill for me to see it on a big screen. It's a silent movie, it's not a talkie. But just to see her move around. I'd heard her sing, she sang and I have several of her tapes that were on records. But I'd never seen her move around so that was a big thrill.$Then I started thinking about going to the convent. I was smart enough to know that I better not talk about that. So I waited until the beginning of my senior year. Several of my friends had entered and were going. I had gone down to Oldenburg [Indiana], the mother house, to visit them. Picked out my grave site. We have a beautiful cemetery and I picked out my grave underneath a spreading tree. I want you to know that that grave was filled in 19--Sister Murielle [ph.] is there in 1960. So we have many, many more nuns that have died since then. But I loved Oldenburg. The first time I went, there was a sister that had died who had been at St. Mary's [St. Mary's Academy, Indianapolis, Indiana] and the sisters, needed--they could not drive. We had a habit that was extended and they couldn't get driver's licenses. So they were asking for drivers and my daddy [Edward Thompson], course I volunteered my daddy. The funeral was just--I just thought it was heavenly and beautiful and sat in that chapel and said, "God let me die here." And I made up my mind that day, but when I brought it up, I thought my father was gonna die. I thought he was gonna die. Just--just threw, literally threw a fit. You know, how God took my mother [Evelyn Preer], now He was gonna take me and oh just. So I said, "Forget it, forget it, you know, I don't really want to do this." And in my mind said, "I'm just like all the other martyrs, I'm gonna have to suffer for my faith. I won't say anything, I won't go to the convent, I won't do anything 'til everybody's dead, then I'll go." So at the end of my senior year, I was supposed to go to Vassar [Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York], had already had my appointment with somebody, et cetera. And was just so sick of heart because I knew I couldn't enter. I said well, "If I can't go to the convent, will you let me go to college here at home, the sisters college [Marian College; Marian University, Indianapolis, Indiana]. Now he was not happy about that, but Momma's [Thompson's paternal grandmother, Susan Knox] delighted because I'm not leaving town. So I lived at home and went to the college and did miserably. Never in my life had I gotten the grades that I got my freshman year in college. And so he said to me at the end of the year, he said, "Baby it would take--." I dated, I got pinned. I did all the things I thought I was supposed to do. Dated a young man who was the grandson of one of Momma's dearest friends, so this was wonderful. His father was--I don't know--dean at the col- at Attucks High School [Crispus Attucks High School, Indianapolis, Indiana]. Very, very well-respected family. So they were very happy about that. I couldn't have cared less. I went out with him so I could say that I went out. At the end of the year when my grades were so awful, daddy said, "It would take an idiot to see that you're unhappy." He said, "So I'll let you go," but he said, "honey you haven't seen the world, I don't feel like I've done right by you. I want you to travel. So if you spend this summer in Europe, then maybe we'll think about you going."