The first ever U.S. beatification ceremony is scheduled to take place on Saturday, October 4 when Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich will be beatified at Newark’s Cathedral-Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
“It will be a moment of special joy for the Church in the United States when Cardinal Angelo Amato, the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, pronounces the formula never before heard on our shores, solemnly declaring Sister Miriam Teresa beata in the presence of a 1,800-strong crowd in Newark’s stunning Gothic cathedral,” writes Father Roger Landry, nation chaplain of Catholic Voices USA for the NCR.
Sister Miriam Teresa was a young sister of Charity who died in 1927 who is known as the ” American St. Therese.” The lives of the two women have many similarities, not least of which is that Sister Miriam received her religious habit on the day St. Therese of Liseux was canonized – May 17, 1925.
“The two have many things in common,” Father Landry writes. “They came from very religious families. They were each named in baptism after St. Teresa of Avila, the great discalced Carmelite foundress. They wanted to enter a Carmelite monastery as teenagers, only to encounter various obstacles. They lost their mothers at a young age. They were playwrights and poetesses in the convent. They suffered many physical maladies and died in their mid-20s. And their great insights, written down at the behest of superiors, were unknown during their lifetimes — only to be published, to the great edification of their fellow religious and others, after their deaths.”
Miriam was born in 1901 to Slovakian immigrants in Bayonne, New Jersey. The youngest of seven children, she was raised by devout Byzantine-rite Catholics in a loving family that nurtured two vocations – Miriam and her older brother Charles to the priesthood.
Intellectually brilliant, Miriam excelled in school and graduated as salutatorian of Bayonne High School at the age of 16. She attended the College of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station, New Jersey where she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in literature – an achievement that was considered rare for women of her time.
From there, she went on to teach Latin and English at the Academy of St. Aloysius (now Caritas Academy), but she longed to become a cloistered Carmelite like her namesake.
This was not God’s plan, however. She was turned away from the order due to health issues that concerned her poor eyesight and on-going headaches. It was because of her great intelligence and high degree of learning that her family convinced her to try a teaching order such as the Sisters of Charity, founded by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born saint. Miriam did so and was accepted, entering in early 1925.
Despite the fact that Miriam would only be a professed sister for five weeks before her untimely death at the age of 26, she left a blessed mark on her community with both her teaching at St. Elizabeth’s Academy and the plays, poems, letters and meditations she wrote.
“And, most valuably, at the request of her spiritual director, Benedictine Father Benedict Bradley, and with the permission of her mother superior, she wrote 26 conferences on religious life that Father Bradley preached to her and her fellow novices as if he had composed them,” Father Landry writes.
In it, Sister Miriam shared her profound interior life and her belief that “the imitation of Christ in the lives of the saints is always possible and compatible with every state of life. The saints did but one thing — the will of God. But they did it with all their might. We have only to do the same thing — and according to the degree of intensity with which we labor shall our sanctification progress.”
Just a year before her death, she wrote what now appears to be a prophecy about her own impending demise. “I have lived long enough to be absolutely sure that in this life I can be absolutely certain of only one thing, the one thing that will not fail me, the one thing that every person must face. Some day, and very soon, no matter how far distant, time for me will cease and eternity begin.”
That day came about on May 8, 1927, after six long months of suffering from a variety of ills including tonsillitis, appendicitis, hypertension, myocarditis and exhaustion. Because she was so weak, her doctor was reluctant to operate on her appendix, which he did only as a last resort two days before her death. When it became clear that she was going to die, her community allowed her to make her final vows so that she could die as a professed religious. She took her religious names – Miriam Teresa – after the Blessed Virgin and the great mystical Doctor of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila.
She was only 26 years old when she passed away at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Elizabeth, N.J., clasping a crucifix with a relic of the True Cross.
After her death, her spiritual director posted a note on the motherhouse bulletin board declaring, “The conferences that I have been giving to the sisters were written by Sister Miriam Teresa.”
The work of this remarkable young woman continued even after she left this earth, as was evidenced in the great miracle worked on behalf of an eight year-old schoolboy named Michael Mencer who was going blind due to irreversible bilateral macular degeneration. In 1964, Michael’s teacher, Sister Maria Augustine of the Sisters of Charity asked her class at St. Anastasia’s School in Teaneck, N.J., to pray to Sister Miriam on behalf of their classmate, that his sight might be restored.
“They knew Sister Miriam Teresa herself suffered with eye troubles her entire life and anticipated they would find in her a compassionate companion in prayer,” Father Landry reports. “After they invoked her help, and Sister Maria Augustine gave Michael a picture of Sister Miriam Teresa and a piece of her reddish-brown hair, his sight was completely restored. No trace remained that he had even had macular degeneration previously.”
Mr. Mencer, who is now 58 years old, will be at the October 4 beatification ceremony and will carry her relics in a procession to the altar.
Sister Miriam invites all of us to follow her to the altar. “The reason we have not yet become saints is because we have not understood what it means to love. We think we do, but we do not,” she once wrote.
“To love means to annihilate oneself for the beloved. The self-sacrifice of a mother for her child is only a shadow of the love wherewith we should love the Beloved of our soul. To love is to conform oneself to the Beloved in the most intimate manner of which we are capable.”
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