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Catholic Heroes . . . Sr. Miriam Teresa Demjanovich

March 2, 2021 saints No Comments


Sr. Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, born at the beginning of the twentieth century in 1901, would be the first American-born citizen beatified on American soil. She was born in Bayonne, N.J., of Slovak immigrant parents, Alexander and Johanna. Miriam was the youngest of seven, all raised and confirmed in the Byzantine-Ruthenian Catholic Church.
Miriam already had a call to the religious life after attending high school and graduating as valedictorian, but her mother was ill and she put off any plans in order to nurse her. She would die of the flu when Miriam was 17. Already Miriam’s piety was noted, but she had yet not decided where to enter.
So, she opted to go to college, attending St. Elizabeth’s at Convent Station, which was New Jersey’s first women’s college and one of the nation’s first Catholic schools for women, as well, founded in 1889. Again, she graduated with the highest honors, in 1923. Afterward she taught at the Academy of St. Aloysius for a while. Both were in the tradition of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. While she still had a vocation, and was determined to enter the religious life, Sr. Miriam again found herself delaying and caring for another sick parent, this time her father. He had caught a cold which turned fatal.
But aged 24, May 17, 1925, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, Miriam began her novitiate. She was accompanied by two sisters and her brother Charles, a priest. She was admitted to a Roman Rite order without any official change of rites, despite always having practiced in the Byzantine-Ruthenian Rite. The date of her admission was also the same date as the canonization of St. Therese of Lisieux, of whom she was very fond, along with admiring St. Teresa of Avila.
Initially thinking she was called to the contemplative life, Miriam had actually first gone to an interview with the discalced Carmelites in the Bronx, without success. For some reason she was asked to explore her vocation further and wait. This was perhaps because her eyesight was poor and she had frequent headaches. In the end, she opted to pursue a more active life in a teaching vocation instead, staying with the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth.
However, she felt that contemplation was and is necessary to all active religious life in necessitating a union with God. This is achieved, she said, by achieving a close relationship with the Trinity in one’s innermost soul: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
“Union with God, then, is the spiritual height God calls everyone to achieve — anyone, not only religious but anyone who chooses, who wills to seek this pearl of great price, who specializes in the traffic of eternal good, who says ‘yes’ constantly to God….The imitation of Christ in the lives of saints is always possible and compatible with every state of life” — Sr. Miriam in Greater Perfection.
Fr. Benedict Bradley, OSB, was her chaplain, spiritual director, and confessor. Only he would know the advanced state of the mystic; Sr. Miriam had visions, and even told her confessor she had seen the Blessed Virgin and Christ Child. She would spend long periods in prayer with the rosary or praying to Our Lord in the Trinity. Fr. Benedict would have her write a serious of reflections, known as “conferences,” used for training novices, around this time. Only after her death was the source revealed and the writings published under the title, Greater Perfection. The book was quite popular in the 1930s and also, it is said, years later with Mother Teresa of Calcutta. (Book apparently not now in print.)
Come 1927, Sr. Miriam needed a tonsillectomy. Returning to the convent dragging, she seemed to still need to stay in the infirmary. Finally, her brother Fr. Charles visited and, seeing how ill she was, took her back to the hospital. Sr. Miriam was diagnosed with appendicitis, heart issues, and exhaustion. She needed immediate surgery but doctors hesitated to operate, afraid she would die on the table. Her final vows as a nun were given “in articulo mortis” on April 22, 1927. Surgery was performed only May 6.
She died of complications of appendicitis two days later on May 8, at age 26. This became her feast day. She had been in the convent just two years with an emergency profession, and her canonization was opened 19 years later.
She was declared venerable by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012, meaning she had led a heroic life of virtue. The miracle that sped her beatification involved the miraculous healing of a boy from blindness caused by macular degeneration. His name? Michael Mercer. Recall that Miriam herself had suffered from poor sight. In 2013 Pope Francis gave approval and she was the first American beatified on American soil.
Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich was beatified in Newark, N.J., October 4, 2014. Chief celebrant was Angelo Cardinal Amato, then the prefect for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and the former blind boy, Michael Mercer, was honored to carry her relics.
Some like to say Blessed Miriam was an “ordinary saint for ordinary times.” But are there any ordinary saints or even ordinary people? Part of her story lies in God’s perfect timing. The miracle was not made known to the canonization process until 1998. But Michael Mercer’s mother had written to the sisters years before, in 1970. Her son had been miraculously healed even earlier, in 1963.
According to the National Catholic Register, a Sr. Maria Cassidy was cleaning up the office and “discovered” the letter, between two file folders in the bottom of a file drawer. For thirty years God apparently thought that we should wait. This was longer than the whole of Blessed Miriam’s life. It was also longer than St. Therese of Lisieux’s life, for she died of tuberculosis after 24 years. And Sr. Miriam always kept the words of St. Therese and the Bible on her own desk to guide her.
There are no “accidents” with God. Why did He ask us to wait?
Michael Mercer’s sight was always fine after the miracle, but he developed cancer for the first time at age 30, and endured 16 different treatments before passing away at age 61. He remained close with the sisters and once said, “When you get a blessings, you have to (be different spiritually). You have no other choice. I told God, ‘Thy will be done’” (Ave Maria Radio).
Today there still very few canonized American saints, but they include St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, connected to Blessed Miriam’s order. What if another miracle were attributed to Blessed Sr. Miriam? She would join an elite group, but only if it is God’s will. She wrote:
“I am hurrying toward eternity. Whether I like it or not, I shall live forever. I must. My soul is immortal. After I stop breathing, I will be judged, weighed in the balance. My past record will be looked up; I will be examined on my merits and demerits and classified accordingly. Then I will be put where I belong.”
Blessed Sr. Miriam, we pray for your canonization; please intercede for us this Lenten season and help our souls gain in perfection this Lent. Through Christ Our Savior. Amen.

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