Morristown, N.J. (October 22, 2014) – In early October, over two thousand gathered at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark for the Mass during which Sr. Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, CSE class of 1923, was proclaimed Blessed by the Catholic Church – a designation one step before sainthood. Angelo Cardinal Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, came from Rome as Pope Francis' personal representative to bestow this honor and title on Blessed Miriam Teresa. He was joined by cardinals, bishops and clergy in concelebrating a Mass in her honor.
With this designation, Sister Miriam Teresa became the first woman in New Jersey to be proclaimed Blessed by the Catholic Church and the first person in the United States to have a beatification ceremony outside of Rome, according to Sister Mary Canavan, vice postulator of the Cause for Beatification.
Sister Miriam Teresa was a popular student at the College of Saint Elizabeth from 1919 to 1923. She excelled academically and was active in many extracurricular activities. Shortly after graduating summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Literature degree, she joined the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth and taught English at the Academy of Saint Elizabeth.
During her short time on earth, Sister Miriam Teresa led such an exemplary life that she has been considered for canonization since 1945. Why was this young woman, born in Bayonne in 1901, so exceptional? Besides her many gifts – as a student, artist, playwright and musician – she appeared to have a unique connection to God, and was often observed in the College chapel alone in prayer, seemingly transfixed to a state of near radiance. Sister Miriam Teresa reportedly also had a vision of the Blessed Mother from her fourth floor dorm room in Santa Rita Hall and said that Saint Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, had once accompanied her during a walk on campus.
Sister Miriam Teresa believed that the intimacy she shared with God was possible for everyone, regardless of their status in life. Shortly after joining the Sisters of Charity, she was asked by her spiritual director, Father Benedict Bradley, O.S.B., to share her ideas about God in a series of conferences for novices. Those conferences were published after her death in the book, "Greater Perfection – A Means of Achieving Union with God through Prayer," which has been translated into many languages and is cherished by people of faith around the world.
"She seemed to have some real awareness of the presence of the Holy Trinity within herself and within everyone else," said Sister Mary. "Her message is as real today as it was then," she said, adding that Sister Miriam Teresa was 40 years ahead of her time when she wrote that everyone was called to holiness, long before Vatican II proclaimed those same sentiments.
At a very young age, Teresa decided she wanted to dedicate her life to God by becoming a Carmelite nun. But God had other plans for her. Instead of entering the cloistered order after graduating from high school, Teresa stayed home for more than a year and a half to take care of her mother, who was very ill.
When her mother died in 1918, Teresa's family urged her to attend the College of Saint Elizabeth and she became a freshman the following year. She graduated with highest honors in 1923 and taught at the Academy of Saint Aloysius in Jersey City for two years before joining the Sisters of Charity.
In May 2012, Pope Benedict XVI decreed Sister Miriam Teresa Venerable and in December 2013 Pope Francis approved her first miracle. For Sister Miriam Teresa to become a saint, she must have a new miracle ascribed to her intercession with God. Dr. Mary Mazzarella '55, medical consultant to the Cause of Sister Miriam Teresa, helped verify that first miracle – a young New Jersey boy named Michael Mencer who suffered from bilateral macular degeneration and was going blind.
In 1964, he was miraculously cured after many people prayed to Sister Miriam Teresa. When Michael gave a lock of Sister Miriam Teresa's hair to his mother, she immediately had a feeling of warmth and a sensation that everything was going to be all right, says Dr. Mazzarella. This miracle led to her beatification celebrated on October 4.