October. 4, 2014 marks an historic moment in the life of the Catholic Church in the United States. For the first time ever, the Rite of Beatification will take place on American soil. In this ceremony, the Church officially recognizes the heroic sanctity of someone who has died and allows the faithful to honor this person with devotion on a local level and to pray to this person for their needs.
In 1945, the Holy See authorized Bishop McLaughlin, the first Bishop of Paterson, to begin the process of investigation into the life and sanctity of Sr. Miriam Teresa Demjanovich of the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth of Convent Station. Her life was short, a mere 26 years. But, her holiness was profound.
Born in Bayonne, on March 26, 1901, she grew up, in full view of New Jersey’s oil refineries, as the youngest of seven children. By rite, she was a Ruthenian Catholic. In the eyes of the world, she lived a normal life. She graduated from the local public high school. She enjoyed music, poetry, theatre and dance appropriate to young women of her age. But, beneath the ordinary experiences of home, parish, school and friends, she was nurturing an extraordinary relationship with God. During her brief teaching career at the Academy of St. Aloysius in Jersey City, others could not help notice her deep humility and faith.
On February 11, 1925, Miriam Teresa, encouraged by her priest brother, entered the Sisters of Charity. As a postulant and novice, she began teaching at the Academy of Saint Elizabeth, Convent Station. When she became gravely ill two years later and was at the point of death, she made her religious profession on April 2, 1927. Shortly thereafter, on May 8, 1927, she died.
Her simplicity, devotion, humility and prayer made a deep and lasting impression on those who knew her. Her spiritual director immediately recognized her unique holiness and asked her to write conferences for him to deliver to the other novices. Her profound insights are applicable to all, not just religious. Her writings are saturated with Sacred Scripture. Long before the renewal of Sacred Scripture, promoted by the Second Vatican Council, Sr. Miriam Teresa had discovered the Word of God as the wellspring of wisdom and holiness. Published after her death in the book Greater Perfection, her writings continue to lead others to God.
The investigation in Sister Miriam Teresa’s life gave more than ample proof of her holiness. God had granted her mystical experiences and visions. But, it was her constant striving to please God, even in the smallest matters, that the Church recognizes as the example for all to follow on the road of holiness. Her constant message that everyone is called to holiness anticipated the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on the universal call to holiness.
In 1964, a young boy, legally blind because of macular degeneration, was healed through her intercession. With Pope Francis’ approval of this healing as an authentic miracle on December 17, 2013, Sister Miriam Teresa was on the way to be the first American whose Rite of Beatification took place in America.
For the first millennium, local bishops or synods of bishops would declare individuals saints. By the 11th century, it became the practice of the popes to declare individuals saints so that they could be venerated by the whole Church. Then, in the 14th century, the Holy See began to allow individuals whose process for canonization was in progress to receive veneration on a local level. This is the origin of the Rite of Beatification.
On September 29, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI reformed the Rite of Beatification. He returned to the more ancient custom of recognizing a person’s holiness on a local level. Now the Rite of Beatification, presided over by the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, normally takes place in the diocese that has promoted the cause of the new Blessed. Because Paterson’s cathedral is under renovation, the Beatification of Sister Miriam Teresa will take place in the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in our neighboring archdiocese at 9:30 a.m. on October 4.
What an historic day for the United States, for New Jersey and most especially for the Diocese of Paterson and the Sisters of Charity. Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich. What a great gift to the Church! God is raising up from among us a reminder of our own call to holiness and an example that, by God’s grace, we can be holy by striving to do God’s will in our daily lives.
Holiness is not a relic of the past. Holiness is the only way to find joy in the present and to be truly blessed.