At first U.S. beatification, new ‘blessed’ remembered as one with ‘mystical visions, deep insights’
“The imitation of Christ in the lives of the saints is always possible and compatible with every state in life,” Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey, stressed, quoting Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich during her beatification Mass at Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Oct. 4.
The beatification Mass, held 19 years to the day of Pope St. John Paul II’s 1995 visit to the cathedral, was the first beatification Mass ever held on United States soil, and it served as a significant step along Blessed Miriam Teresa’s road to sainthood. Beatification Masses outside of the Vatican was a reform made during Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate.
Short, faithful life
Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich was born in Bayonne, New Jersey, in 1901 to Slovakian immigrants, Alexander and Johanna, and baptized in the Ruthenian-Byzantine rite. Salutatorian of her Bayonne High School class, Miriam Teresa was first attracted to the Carmelites; however, as the youngest of seven, she first took care of her parents. After her mother died, Miriam Teresa graduated summa cum laude from the College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown, New Jersey, and taught Latin and English for a year at the Academy of St. Aloysius in Jersey City. Her father died three days before she was to formally enter the Sisters of Charity. She taught at the Academy of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station as a postulant and novice.
Her spiritual director immediately saw God’s radiance in her and asked her to anonymously write the spiritual conferences he would preach to her and her fellow Sisters of Charity in formation. Father Benedict Bradley explained, “I thought that one day she would be ranked among the saints of God, and I felt it was incumbent upon me to utilize whatever might contribute to an appreciation of her merits after her death.”
Her life as a Sister of Charity was short, as she made her final vows of poverty, chastity and obedience at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Elizabeth, New Jersey, after being hospitalized due to complications and an infection after having her tonsils removed. She died the following month.
After her death, a note signed by Father Bradley was posted on the motherhouse bulletin board: “The conferences which I have been giving to the sisters were written by Sister Miriam Teresa.”
During the beatification Mass, Bishop Serratelli said that God raised up Blessed Miriam Teresa “to be a light along our Christian journey,” belonging to “that circle of chosen souls whom God himself elects for special graces, not merely for themselves, but for all his people.”
Bishop Serratelli noted that she was born in 1901, “the very year Marconi received the first telegraph sign. ... God was preparing her to show us the way to be in constant conversation with him through prayer.”
Cardinal Angelo Amato, the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome, presided over the Mass and was joined by the Apostolic Nuncio of the Holy See to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, as well as current and former archbishops of Newark John J. Myers and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, respectively. Also present were other bishops, archbishops, priest concelebrants, fellow Sisters of Charity and religious women of other area congregations.
“Miriam lived within the shadows of one of the world’s greatest metropolises,” Bishop Serratelli said during his homily. “The world did not shine its spotlight on her ordinary, hidden life. But heaven embraced her in divine light, lifting her to visions too great for human striving.”
Throughout her life and in her writings, Blessed Miriam Teresa left behind “the proof that doing God’s will in all things bridges the distance between heaven and earth,” Bishop Serratelli said.
Each saint made a choice to let God sanctify their lives, Blessed Miriam Teresa wrote, with “persistent, insistent adherence” to God’s will. “The saints did one thing: the will of God,” she wrote. “But they did it with all their might.”
Blessed Miriam Teresa continued:
“We have only to do the same thing; and according to the degree of intensity with which we labor shall our sanctification progress. We shall attain that height of glory in heaven that corresponds to the depths of humility we have sounded on earth. The harder you hit a ball on the ground, the higher it rebounds. The perfection of humility is the annihilation of our will — its absolute submission to the divine in every last detail.” That, she said, is what makes a saint.
“Without a deep, personal love for the sacred humanity of our Lord, you will advance very little” in the spiritual life and “lag behind,” she cautioned, reminding readers that our universal call is to holiness and union with God.
‘A living monstrance’
She “anticipated,” as Bishop Serratelli said, “Vatican II’s emphasis on the word of God as the source of authentic spirituality.” And “by God’s grace, she knew and understood — she spoke and lived — the universal call to holiness, later to be formally taught by the Second Vatican Council.”
During his homily, Bishop Serratelli said: “In his all-wise providence, God chose to entrust Sister Miriam Teresa to the Sisters of Charity and to grace her with mystical visions and deep insights; to show that, only with prayer, can we, the branches, bear much fruit; to show us that union with God is the source for all we do in Jesus’ name; and even more important, to show us, as she herself once wrote, that ‘Union with God ... is the spiritual height God calls everyone to achieve — anyone, not only religious, but anyone ... who says “yes” constantly to God.’”
Blessed Miriam Teresa wrote: “Keep the ways of the Lord. ... The way of the cross is the path of self-sacrifice and denial. Only a humble soul can walk this path securely.”
“In our secularized age that shuns solicitude and silence,” Bishop Serratelli said, God has given us “a new Blessed who was, in the words spoken at her death, a ‘living monstrance that silently showed forth our Lord to all who passed by.’”