by Natalie Yuhas
At a Mass in Newark, presided over by Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, in New Jersey on October 4, Sister Miriam Teresa became the first person to be beatified on American soil. Bishop Serratelli said. “Sr. Miriam belongs to that circle of chosen souls whom God himself elects for special graces, not merely for themselves, but for all his people.”
Sr. Miriam’s parents, Alexander and Johanna Demjanovich, were Slovakian immigrants, and she was the youngest of seven children. Sr. Miriam Teresa was always a good student, giving the salutatory address at her high school graduation and graduating summa cum laude from College of Saint Elizabeth, Convent Station, N.J. with a Bachelor of Literature. She entered the Sisters of Charity Convent in February 1925 after waiting to take care of her ill parents.
While in the convent, Sr. Miriam Teresa was a teacher at the Academy of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station. In addition to teaching, she wrote short plays, poems, and fragments of her autobiography. Before being stressed at the Second Vatican Council, Sr. Miriam Teresa emphasized a universal call to holiness. She is acknowledged as saying, “The imitation of Christ in the lives of saints is always possible and compatible.” Bishop Serratelli commented that she was also known to say, “The saints did but one thing – the will of God, but they did it with all their might.”
Sr. Miriam Teresa lived a short life, dying at the age of 26 due to a burst appendix. She had only just completed the novitiate and made her final vows of chastity.
Many people recognized Sr. Miriam’s life as saintly. Bishop Serratelli commented, “Whether absorbed in prayer, teaching in the classroom, scrubbing floors or, in obedience to her confessor, writing the spiritual conferences now known as The Greater Perfection, she was careful never to offend God and to serve him by knowing and doing his will.”
Sr. Miriam Teresa had mystical visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of St. Therese of Lisieux. She had a special devotion to St. Thérèse of Lisieux and had a vision of walking with St. Therese on her college campus.
In 1998, a letter surfaced that was used as evidence for the Vatican to approve one of two miracles that are necessary to qualify as a saint. The letter was from Barbara Mencer. She claimed that her son, Michael, should have been blind. When Michael was in the third grade, he was diagnosed with juvenile macular degeneration and had six months until he lost his sight completely. Michael’s sight was cured after receiving a holy card and relic of Sister Miriam Teresa.
This miracle, along with medical records, provide evidence for her sainthood. Sr. Miriam Teresa is among a very small number of blesseds and saints from the United States, including, St. Francis Xavier Cabrini and St. Elizabeth Anne Seton.
Bishop Serratelli commented on her importance during the 20th century filled with violence in conflict. He said, “In our secularized age that shuns solicitude and silence, God is giving us, from among those who leave the world to be with Christ, a new Blessed who was, in the words spoken at her death, a living ‘monstrance that silently showed forth Our Lord to all that passed by.’”