A Nun From New Jersey Is on a Path to Sainthood
Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich was a nun for only two years at a convent in New Jersey before she died in 1927 at the age of 26. But on Saturday she will edge closer to sainthood when she is beatified at a special Mass in Newark, the first time such a ceremony has been held in the United States.
Sister Miriam Teresa was born in Bayonne in 1901, the youngest of seven children of immigrants from present-day Slovakia. She attended Bayonne public schools, and was baptized in the Byzantine-Ruthenian Catholic Church. She attended the College of Saint Elizabeth, where she majored in English literature, graduating summa cum laude in 1923.
Two years later, she joined the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station, N.J., and was a member of the religious order for two years before she died of acute appendicitis. But she had produced many devotional writings that proved to be influential among Roman Catholics.
She has also been credited with producing a miracle, an achievement that, under the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, was a necessity for her to be considered for beatification.
In 1945, members of her family petitioned the bishop of Paterson, N.J., to begin pressing for her sainthood. Over the last six decades, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, a committee in the Vatican, has been examining her life and writings and the medical miracle linked to her intercession to determine if she was indeed virtuous and holy enough to be honored.
Sister Miriam Teresa produced a large body of religious writings and was seen as an “extraordinarily holy woman” by her family and the other sisters in her order, according to Sister Mary Canavan, a member of the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth who has helped lead the beatification campaign.
“That she did so much in such a short life speaks to the fact that this was obviously a work of God,” Sister Canavan said.
Sister Miriam Teresa rose to prominence as a devotional figure because her message was compatible with that of the Second Vatican Council, a historical conclave of church leaders in the 1960s that helped modernize the Roman Catholic Church, Sister Mary Canavan said.
“She had a real mission, even before Vatican II, that anyone in the whole world, we are all called to be holy, to do God’s will, which is that the earth be a place of peace and prosperity for all people, and that all people can live lives of goodness,” Sister Mary Canavan said.
As a result of her popularity in the 1960s, many Roman Catholics in New Jersey began praying to her for help.
In 1964, a young boy in Teaneck, N.J., Michael Mencer, was diagnosed with macular degeneration, which his doctors told him was irreversible and would soon make him blind.
A teacher at his school, a member of the Sisters of Charity, gave him a prayer card and a memento of Sister Miriam Teresa. He and his mother prayed to her. Within six weeks, he could see again, Sister Mary Canavan said.
Mr. Mencer’s mother wrote a letter to the sisters in 1970 to explain what had happened, but it was misplaced between two file cabinets, Sister Mary Canavan said, and not found until 1998. The sisters wanted to use this miracle as evidence for beatification, but since the doctors who had treated Michael Mencer, the sister at his school and his school’s principal had all died, the convent relied on Mr. Mencer’s medical records. They had been preserved and were presented to a panel of ophthalmologists — four in the United States, and 14 in Rome — to see if the restoration of his sight was indeed miraculous.
The doctors determined that there was no medical explanation for his recovery. Theologians then convened and said that it was through Sister Miriam Teresa’s intercession that God had performed a miracle, Sister Mary Canavan said. Last year, Pope Francis declared it a miracle. It was the final step on the path to beatification, which will be celebrated on Saturday at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark.
To become a saint, Sister Miriam Teresa will have to be credited with another posthumous miracle.
Mr. Mencer, who is now 55, plans to carry a relic of Sister Miriam Teresa through the cathedral at the Mass on Saturday and present it to Cardinal Angelo Amato, a representative from the Vatican. The relic is a lock of hair, which is kept in an ornate gold-plated reliquary.
Sister Miriam Teresa will become one of seven beatified Americans. Only three native-born Americans have become saints: Elizabeth Anne Seton, Katharine Drexel and Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk Indian. The other nine American saints were foreign-born missionaries.
Under Pope Benedict XVI, beatifications were allowed to be held outside of the Vatican for the first time.
“To say we’re excited is probably the biggest understatement possible,” said James Goodness, a spokesman for the archdiocese of Newark, which is sponsoring the beatification Mass. “Someone who was from New Jersey has become blessed. It really brings it close to home, and makes it seem possible for any one of us.”