November 14, 2008

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Possible saints: Miriam Teresa Demjanovich

John F. Fink(Twenty-fifth in a series of columns)

Like St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Miriam Teresa Demjanovich led a relatively hidden life in a convent and died young. St. Thérèse was 24 when she died, and Teresa was 26.

Teresa was born in 1901 in Bayonne, N.J., to immigrants from Slovakia, the youngest of seven children.

After graduating from high school at age 16, she spent two years caring for her sick mother. After her mother’s death, she entered the College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown, N.J., and was one of only two students from her class to graduate summa cum laude.

She taught English and Latin at the Academy of St. Aloysius in Jersey City, but after a year of that realized that teaching was not her vocation.

She had long been interested in the life of a religious so in 1924 she began to seek a religious community.

First, she visited the Carmelite community in the Bronx, but the Carmelites weren’t willing to accept her because she had poor eyesight caused by oscillating pupils that gave her headaches. The Carmelites suggested that she wait a few more years.

She didn’t wait. Late in 1924, she applied to the Sisters of Charity at Convent Station, N.J., and was accepted.

She was supposed to enter the order on Feb. 2, 1925, but her father caught a cold that developed into pneumonia and he died on Jan. 30, so her entrance was postponed until Feb. 11. After her postulancy, she became a novice and took the religious name Miriam.

Benedictine Father Benedict Bradley was the community’s spiritual director, and he quickly recognized Sister Miriam’s spirituality as well as her writing ability.

He encouraged her to write down her spiritual thoughts—much as St. Thérèse’s superior had encouraged her to do. Then Father Benedict asked if she would write conferences that Father Benedict would deliver. With her superior’s approval, she began to do that, preparing a new conference for Father Benedict each week.

In November of 1926, Sister Miriam became ill. After a tonsillectomy, she returned to the convent, but could barely walk to her room. After a few days, she asked if she could return to the infirmary, but her superior, thinking it odd that someone so young could be so sick, told her, “Pull yourself together.”

When Father Benedict saw how sick she was, he notified her brother, who called their nurse-sister. She went to the convent and immediately took Sister Miriam to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with “physical and nervous exhaustion, with myocarditis and acute appendicitis.”

Doctors, though, didn’t think she was strong enough for an operation and her condition worsened. Her brother and sister asked permission for her to profess her vows and permission was granted. She died on May 8, 1927.

After her death, Father Benedict told the community that the conferences he had been giving had been written by Sister Miriam. The community immediately recognized her spiritual maturity, published the conferences in a book called Greater Perfection, and began her cause for canonization.†

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