North American Sanctity: Blessed Sr. Miriam Teresa Demjanovich

Blessed Sr. Miriam Teresa Demjanovich's college yearbook picture.

If people only sought God in all earnestness, they would find Him. 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.

Welcome to "North American Sanctity," a new series on holy men and women, boys and girls, saints and those on the road to sainthood, from Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Some will be familiar, others less so; but all are inspiring!

By Kimberly Bruce

The roster of “famous” people from the great state of New Jersey is about to get longer. Joining the likes of Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, and even Martha Stewart is a humble nun from Bayonne who is on the road to sainthood.

Blessed Sr. Miriam Teresa Demjanovich (feast day: May 8) was an extraordinarily prayerful woman and gifted writer who had an enormous impact before her untimely death at age 26.

Dedication to God
Teresa Demjanovich was born on March 26, 1901, one of seven children to Slovakian immigrant parents. From her youth, she wished to dedicate her life to God. She wrote:

The real beginning of my life, the life of the spirit, occurred five days after my birth according to the flesh. I was baptized and confirmed in the Greek rite on the thirty-first of March, a Sunday, truly a day of resurrection.

Baptized in the Byzantine Rite of the Catholic Church, Fr. Thomas Loya, a Ruthenian Catholic priest said, “She is a convergence point for unity with East and West. You can tell in her spirituality she had the influence of both. She was at home in both Churches, the Byzantine and Latin.”

Wishing to become a Carmelite nun after her high school graduation, Teresa remained at home to care for her sick mother. After her mother’s death, she attended the College of Saint Elizabeth where she majored in literature, and began teaching at the Academy of Saint Aloysius in Jersey City. Still desiring to enter religious life, she then joined the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth and took the name Sr. Miriam Teresa.

By age 25, however, she began suffering many physical ailments and was constantly in a weakened state. She died on May 8, 1927, just one month after making her final religious vows. She is buried at Holy Family Cemetery on the grounds of her order's motherhouse in Convent Station, New Jersey.

Visions and gifts
What made this humble sister so special, putting her on the path to sainthood? 

Sister Miriam Teresa was blessed with visions of Our Lord, Our Blessed Mother, and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. She was also a gifted writer. Her spiritual director, Fr. Benedict Bradley, directed her to write down her spiritual insights which he presented to the postulants. These were compiled into a book, Greater Perfection: Conferences of Sister Miriam Teresa

“I believed that she enjoyed extraordinary lights, and I knew that she was living an exemplary life,” Father Bradley would later say. “I thought that one day she would be ranked among the saints of God.” 

Within Greater Perfection, Bl. Miriam Teresa addresses a myriad of topics ranging from one’s sanctification and purity of intention, to spiritual desolation and the reason for Christ’s Incarnation.

Little sacrifices
Known to offer up little sacrifices to God — such as not allowing her feet to touch the ground when kneeling, or not allowing her arms or elbows to rest on the pew in front of her — Bl. Miriam Teresa is reminiscent of St. Faustina who undertook such mortifications as recorded in her Diary:

I cannot practice big mortifications as before, because I am under the strict surveillance of the doctor, But I can practice little things: first—sleep without a pillow; keep myself a little hungry; every day, with my arms outstretched, say the chaplet which the Lord taught me; occasionally, with arms outstretched, for an indefinite period of time pray informally. Intention: to beg divine mercy for poor sinners, and for priests, the power to bring sinful hearts to repentance (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 934).

One of the topics Sr. Miriam wrote often about was venial sin. Citing the confession of mortal sins as imperative, she was also very concerned about the piling up of venial sins within souls.

“What [exactly] is the trouble?” she asked, if one continues to come to confession week after week, month after month, and year after year without conquering one’s venial sins, despite God’s graces? She answered it in this way:

We have no idea of the malice of sin, and therefore we go on our way cheerfully piling up insult after insult to God, and heaping up for ourselves mountains of fuel to be consumed in the weary, slow-burning fire of purgatory …When I deliberately commit a venial sin with the idea, “It’s only a venial sin,” which is the same as saying, “There is no eternal punishment attached,” am I seeking God, or am I seeking myself? Not God, surely. If I were, I would take care not to do anything that would offend Him in the least.

We should seek to overcome all our sins in the way of perfection. After all, Christ said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). 

Blessed Sr. Miriam Teresa shows each of us that we can attain sanctity right where we are, despite our age, our limitations, and our circumstances. 

Her life is featured in an episode of EWTN’s They Might Be Saints. “If people only sought God in all earnestness, they would find Him,” she said. “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.”

Miracle
The Vatican’s Medical Commission for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints approved a miracle attributed to Bl. Miriam Teresa’s intercession, leading to her beatification by Pope Francis on Oct. 4, 2014. Hers was the first beatification ceremony held in the U.S. of a native-born American citizen.

Nineteen medical doctors confirmed Michael Mencer’s 1963 healing from macular degeneration to be medically unexplainable. Suffering from his eye disease and poor vision for years, The Sisters of Charity and Michael’s neighbors began to pray for him. His third-grade teacher, also the Director of the Miriam Teresa League, sent the boy home one day with a pamphlet about Sr. Miriam and a relic of the nun’s hair.

On his walk home, Michael began to see! No doctor could explain this, including renowned ophthalmologists. No one had ever known anyone cured of macular degeneration.

Blessed Sr. Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, pray for us!

Next in the series: Blessed Catherine of St. AugustineMay 8.
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