(A narrated slideshow of Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, SC – Youtuber: Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth)
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. Beatification requires evidence of one miracle that happened after the candidate has died and as a result of a specific plea to the candidate.
The miracle that opens the way for the beatification of Miriam Teresa Demjanovich involves the restoration of perfect vision to a boy who had gone legally blind because of macular degeneration. Silvia Correale, the postulator for Sr Teresa’s cause in Rome, said : “All ophthalmologists know that this condition cannot be totally healed. It can be stopped from advancing, but it cannot be fully cured.” The decision as to the miraculous nature of this healing was unanimous by all committees, she added. Traditionally, beatifications have taken place in Rome. But several years ago, Pope Benedict XVI said beatifications could take place in the country and diocese from which the blessed person came.Sainthood requires a second miracle, though candidates deemed martyrs need only one for canonization.
Michael Mencer holds a cross with a lock of hair of the Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich during a beatification ceremony for the nun at Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014, in Newark, N.J. Demjanovich, who died in 1927 at age 26, is credited with curing Mencer’s eye disease as a boy when he was given a lock of the nun’s hair and prayed to her. The ceremony moves Demjanovich a step closer to sainthood with her beatification as it is the third in a four-step process. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
The second process, known as the Apostolic process, is instituted by the Pope to more closely scrutinize the person’s past and to determine if he or she should be elevated to sainthood.
There are currently about 30 people in the US whose cause has been introduced into Rome. Pope John Paul II has canonized about 280 people worldwide during the last 25 years. In petitioning for Sister Teresa in July, Archbishop Myers conducted a ceremony that included sealing the documentation that will be present Sister Teresa’s beatification cause to Vatican authorities, the first step towards canonization as a saint. The paperwork was officially transported to Rome in late July. “It is now up to the congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome,” said a spokesperson for the Archbishop last week. “If she is beatified, it was be the first time someone in New Jersey has been.” Reports began to surface from around the world attributing a variety of miraculous “favors and cures” done at her intercession. In 1945, Rome authorized the local bishop to begin investigations as to whether or not Sister Teresa met the standards for sainthood. Becoming a saint is a rigorous process that involves four steps. The church appoints someone to scrutinize claims of miracles the intent to disprove them.
The second stage, a person’s heroic virtues are recognized and the pope declares the individual a “servant of God”. This happened in 1955 entitling Sister Teresa to be called venerable. Next the Vatican closely examines a candidate’s writings.
Finally to become as saint, a person must have miracles associated with him or her. In 2003, a tribunal met in Convent Station concerning alleged miracles at the intercession of Sister Teresa that took places in the 1960s. She was credited with helping to heal people.
The Vatican standard for miracles is extremely high: A board of doctors, notoriously exacting, must conclude that no reasonable medical explanation exists for a healing. If there are living witnesses, they are brought to testify. If the pope grants Sister Teresa the newly elevated “Blessed” status, he will do so at a mass held in Rome, at which time he will also set a feast date to be celebrated related to her life.†