The first American beatified in the United States, Sister Miriam Teresa modeled a life of holiness
The U.S. Church was to receive a new “blessed” Oct. 4 — Sister of Charity of St. Elizabeth Miriam Teresa Demjanovich. The first blessed to be beatified in the United States, and the first to hail from New Jersey, Sister Miriam Teresa was to be honored at Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
Miriam Demjanovich was the daughter of immigrants, Alexander and Johanna, who came to America from what is now eastern Slovakia. The youngest of their seven children, she was born in 1901 in Bayonne, New Jersey. The family practiced their faith in the Ruthenian Rite — one of the eastern rites of the Catholic Church. As a child, Miriam spent hours a day in a school in the basement of her parish church, learning to read the Cyrillic alphabet and the Old Slavonic language so she could understand the Divine Liturgy.
When her mother was dying, Miriam took over management of the household. After her mother’s death, her family urged her to develop her intellectual gifts and go to college. She chose the College of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station, New Jersey, a school that was founded by — and is still operated by — the Sisters of Charity. It was here that she made the transition from the Ruthenian Rite to the Latin Rite. And it was at the college that she found her vocation.
After graduating with highest honors, Miriam went home to care for her father. She supported herself by teaching Latin and English at the Academy of St. Aloysius in Jersey City, New Jersey.
After the death of her father, she felt free to follow her calling, and she joined the community of the Sisters of Charity at Convent Station. She entered the novitiate in February 1925 and in May received the habit of a novice. She added Teresa to her name in honor of St. Teresa of Avila and out of her deep devotion to St. Therese of the Little Flower. As it happened, Sister Miriam Teresa took her vows as a novice on the day the Little Flower was canonized.
Tragically, shortly after she took her vows, Sister Miriam Teresa fell ill and died in 1927 at the age of 26.
Spreading her message
The Sisters of Charity, who have been promoting Sister Miriam Teresa’s cause since the 1970s, present her as a model for how anyone — laity, clergy, religious — can achieve holiness in everyday life. Sister Miriam Teresa took to heart the words of Christ: “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” And through her writings, she wanted to pass that message on to the world.
In recent years, people have come forward with stories of favors and cures which they attributed to the intercession of Sister Miriam Teresa.
The miracle that led to her beatification was the inexplicable healing of a 6-year-old boy suffering from bilateral macular degeneration. He was legally blind when, in 1963, a Sister of Charity at St. Anastasia School in Teaneck, New Jersey, urged the school and parish community to ask Sister Miriam Teresa to intercede for the boy so that God would restore his eyesight. When the boy did recover his sight, the doctors could not explain how.
In a letter from Sister Miriam Teresa to her spiritual director Benedictine Father Benedict Bradley, dated Aug. 19. 1926, the young nun reflected on what could perhaps be identified as her own path to sainthood.
“I felt very intensely that if people only sought God in all earnestness they would find Him,” she wrote. “And if all would only make use of the ordinary duties and trials of their state in the way God intended, they would all become saints.”