NEWARK, N.J. — Nearly 2,000 people packed the Cathedral-Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Saturday, while dozens more stood outside in a steady rain to attend the Mass of the beatification of Venerable Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, a Sister of Charity of St. Elizabeth.
The historic moment marked the first beatification liturgy ever held in the United States.
A first-generation American, Blessed Miriam Teresa was born and raised in nearby Bayonne, N.J., the last of seven children. Her parents, Alexander and Johanna, had emigrated from northeastern Slovakia.
Newark’s Archbishop John Myers, in his welcoming remarks, noted another historic aspect of the event: Exactly 19 years ago, on Oct. 4, St. John Paul II visited this cathedral. He raised its status to a basilica and prayed in the chapel next to the sanctuary that now houses his relic.
Another saintly connection occurred during Sister Miriam Teresa’s life. While she took her name in honor of the Blessed Mother and St. Teresa of Avila, she received her novice’s habit on the day St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, to whom she had a deep devotion, was canonized.
Cardinal Angelo Amato, who heads the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, presided over the beatification ceremony. The day began with a grand procession of dozens of priests and deacons, as well as scores of Sisters of Charity, bishops, archbishops and cardinals. Archbishop Myers was joined by Bishop Arthur Serratelli of the Diocese of Paterson, N.J., Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, N.Y., Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, and Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the apostolic nuncio to the United States. Also in attendance were Archbishop Jozef Kupny of Poland and Bishop Kurt Burnette of the Ruthenian-Byzantine Eparchy of Passaic, N.J.
Bishop DiMarzio, who was educated by the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth at the Sacred Heart Cathedral School in Newark, earlier said that he has “memories of praying for her beatification when [he] was in elementary school.”
Others attending included some members of the Demjanovich family and Dr. Mary Mazzarella, a retired pediatrician instrumental in the cause.
Cardinal Amato, the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and principal celebrant of the Mass, read Pope Francis’ apostolic letter during the beatification rite before the Gloria.
The decree declared Sister Miriam Teresa, “whose ardent adoration of the most Holy Trinity and whose strenuous witness is evidence of her evangelical love, should henceforth be called 'Blessed' forever,” and her feast may be celebrated on May 8, “the day of her heavenly birth.”
The congregation then saw a visibly moved Michael Mencer lead a short procession, as he carried Sister Miriam Teresa’s relic encased in a gold-cross reliquary to a place of honor before the raised pulpit. As a young boy, Mencer was miraculously cured of irreversible juvenile macular degeneration after prayers through her intercession.
In 2012, Benedict XVI declared her “Venerable,” and in 2013, this miracle for beatification was validated.
A Hidden Life Now in the Light
In his homily, Bishop Serratelli of the Paterson Diocese, which initiated Sister Miriam Teresa’s cause in 1953, first highlighted the 20th century as “a time of extremes,” with wars from World War I to the Persian Gulf and horrible genocides in several countries; yet during those years, there were many “strides for the common good,” such as the polio vaccine and household appliances that we now take for granted.
“At the very beginning of these years, when science was giving birth to optimism and humankind was bent on destroying its own future, God was secretly at work … preparing a way to show us close at hand what is most important, what makes for true progress and lasting happiness,” Bishop Serratelli noted.
God was raising up young Miriam Teresa Demjanovich “to be a light along our Christian journey.”
He said Blessed Miriam “belongs to that circle of chosen souls whom God himself elects for special graces, not merely for themselves, but for all his people.”
Bishop Serratelli empathized that “by the time she died in 1927, the year Lindbergh made his first flight between America and Europe, she had left behind — both in her life and in writings — the proof that doing God’s will in all things bridges the distance between heaven and earth.”
She lived near one of the world’s greatest metropolises, yet while the world “did not shine its spotlight in her ordinary, hidden life, heaven embraced her in divine light, lifting her to visions too great for human striving.”
A Saint for Our Time
Bishop Serratelli continued, pointing out that Blessed Miriam Teresa lived only 26 years and her life with the Sisters of Charity of Convent Station lasted only 28 months, after she entered on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1925.
“But God does not need much time to draw us to himself, only our will to please him in all things,” the bishop observed, quoting Sister Miriam: “The saints did but one thing — the will of God. But they did it with all their might.”
In whatever she did, he went on, from tasks like teaching children to scrubbing floors and writing in obedience spiritual conferences, published in a booklet after her death called Greater Perfection, “she was careful never to offend God and to serve him by knowing and doing his will.”
“Filled with the knowledge of sacred Scripture, she anticipated Vatican II’s emphasis on the word of God as the source of authentic spirituality,” he revealed.
Reminding the faithful that God “in his all-wise Providence” entrusted the newly beatified to the Sisters of Charity and graced her with mystical visions and deep insights, the bishop again quoted Sister Miriam Teresa: “Union with God … is the spiritual height God calls everyone to achieve — anyone, not only religious, but anyone … who says ‘Yes’ constantly to God.”
These words were some of her insights that anticipated a major event in the Church 40 years later.
“By God’s grace,” said Bishop Serratelli, “she knew and understood; she spoke and lived the universal call to holiness, later to be formally taught by the Second Vatican Council.
“For as Sister Miriam Teresa teaches, ‘The imitation of Christ in the lives of the saints is always possible and compatible with every state of life.’”
He pointed out that her example and teaching is an antidote to our secularized times, where many have religion without creeds, faith with no commitment and reject silence and solitude, and how people are capable still of love, nobility and compassion yet are often responsible for the brutal, ugly and barbaric.
“At a time when we need to rediscover the wellsprings of all goodness,” concluded Bishop Serratelli, “God is giving us a new Blessed who recalls us to the truth that, by baptism, the most Holy Trinity dwells within our souls; a Blessed who reminds us that, when we live in such a way that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit remain within us, we find true joy in this world and the next.”
Cause for Celebration
For Mencer, this beatification became a time of exceptional joy. While still in the cathedral immediately after the beatification Mass, he recounted the day, in the early 1960s, that the doctor told him he would be blind in six months. He was only 8 years old.
Mencer recalled how “the Sisters of Charity and everybody on the block” were praying for the intercession of Sister Miriam Teresa for the restoration of his eyesight. He was given a relic, what he calls “a memento,” of her.
On Sept. 26, the day after the doctor’s final word, he had the rare occasion of walking home alone from school. He could navigate by following the edge of the sidewalk meeting the grass.
For some unexplained reason, he said that he “looked up to see, for about 10 or 11 seconds, what looked like the sun,” then he looked back down. Once home with his mother, he was looking straight at her without turning his head to the side in order to be able to glimpse her from the side of his vision. It was something he was unable to do for two years.
Mencer recounted how he was again able to ride a bike and join his older brother and sisters in their reading contests because he could read a book again. Only a short time before, he was getting ready to learn Braille.
Mencer is glad this recognition and beatification “happened while I am still alive, and my mother got to see it,” he said, adding that she was unable to attend because of a stroke. “I thought it would take a hundred years.”
Asked if his life was different spiritually because of his miracle, Mencer quickly and simply said, “When you get a blessing, you have to (be different spiritually). You have no other choice. I told God, 'Thy will be done.' I’ve always tried to say that.”
He simply asks God to bless “whoever I see.”
At the same time, his bond with the newly Blessed Miriam Teresa has always remained.
“She’s a friend; I talk to her like a friend,” Mencer said, advising others to do the same. “I hope they start talking to a saint or blessed.”
There is no question he looks forward with confidence that Blessed Miriam Teresa’s canonization will not take long. “I feel the second miracle is not far away,” he said.
One of Their Own
At the cathedral after the beatification, Sister Rosemary Moynihan, general superior of the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth, told the Register, “The fact that she lived her life fully as a young sister of the Church gave me hope. If we live the same life with boundless charity, that is holiness, and are connected to the good and gracious God,” we can follow her example.
Sister Rosemary recalled how Blessed Miriam Teresa “found God where she was — in her family, in her school, in her college. She did what her mother asked. And she found the Sisters of Charity.”
At her family’s urging, Blessed Miriam Teresa went to college at St. Elizabeth’s in College Station, N.J., where the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth have their motherhouse and where Blessed Miriam Teresa entered the congregation and spent her religious life.
Today, with 327 vowed members, the congregation is engaged in several ministries that include education, health care in hospitals and homes for the aged and pastoral and social-service ministries in 19 U.S. dioceses and also El Salvador and Haiti.
Blessed Miriam Teresa did not get a big reception in her life, said Sister Rosemary, but her confessor recognized her depth of faith. After she died, he revealed that he had asked her to write the conference talks that he gave to the novices.
Summarizing in a few words what we can learn from Blessed Miriam Teresa, Sister Rosemary concluded: “The message is: Where you are, God is with you, filling you completely. You are called to holiness in your everyday lives.”
Joseph Pronechen the Register's staff writer.
This story has been updated since it was first posted.