It is no doubt impertinent to compare saints. After all, each saint is utterly unique. In fact, their uniqueness characterizes them as much as their love for God and neighbor. Nonetheless, similarities between St. Thérèse of Lisieux and Miriam Teresa Demjanovich (1901-1927) of Bayonne New Jersey are striking.
To begin with, they share the same first name. Miriam was added as a baptismal name. Secondly, both were the youngest children of large families. Thérèse was the last of nine children, and Teresa, the last of seven. Not surprising, they emerged from deeply religious families. The former became a Carmelite, and the latter aspired to enter the Carmel but was rejected for reasons of health. It was also time for her to stay at home and care for her ailing mother. Teresa had aspired to walk in the footsteps of her namesakes, St. Thérése and St. Teresa of Avila. They were both contemplatives and passed away in their twenties, Thérése at 24, Teresa at 26. That everyone is called to holiness is a theme they both shared with absolute conviction.
It has been said that the only thing ordinary in the annals of Thérèse was her life and holiness. Truly extraordinary things happened after she passed away. She became a saint with whom people could identify and became a favorite with so many. Her rapid process of beatification and canonization surprised Rome. The same can be said for Teresa who lived a nearly invisible life in the Convent of the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth. Theodore Maynard makes the following statement in his book Great Catholics in American History: “Even before Miriam Teresa’s body was taken out of the hospital at Paterson [New Jersey] the first of what seemed to be miracles wrought through her intercession occurred, and there was another at her funeral. Still, more extraordinary happenings took place later . . .” In a Miriam Teresa League of Prayer brochure ((November 24, 2012) it is noted that “Favors and cures attributed to her intercession are continually being reported”. Her funeral was held May 11, 1927, at Holy Family Chapel in Convent Station, New Jersey and she was buried at Holy Family Cemetery on the motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth grounds.
In addition, both Thérèse and Teresa wrote poetry and produced spiritual works for posterity, The Story of a Soul and Greater Perfection, respectively. The origin of the latter book is of some interest. While a novice at the convent of the Sisters of Charity, Fr. Benedict Bradley, struck by her exalted spirituality, asked her to write the conferences which he read to the Sisters. It was made known only after her death that she was the author of these twenty-six conferences. She never demanded recognition. An excerpt reads as follows: “Union with God, then, is the spiritual height God calls everyone to achieve—anyone, not only religious but anyone, who chooses, who wills to seek this pearl of great price, who specializes in the traffic of eternal good, who says ‘yes’ constantly to God … The imitation of Christ in the lives of saints is always possible and compatible with every state of life. The saints did but one thing – the will of God. But they did it with all their might. We have only to do the same thing; and according to the degree of intensity with which we labor shall our sanctification progress.” Greater Perfection has been translated into a dozen different languages and is seen as a masterpiece of spirituality.
In her short life, Teresa suffered a great deal. On the final day of 1926, she was exhausted and had to be taken to the infirmary. Some found it hard to believe that a person as young as she was could be afflicted with a serious illness. “Pull yourself together,” she was told. “For a long time,” she answered, “there has been nothing to pull”. Teresa was subsequently taken to a hospital where her chart read: “Physical and nervous exhaustion, with myocarditis and acute appendicitis”. She was given special permission to take her permanent vows made in periculo mortis (in danger of death) on April 2, 1927. She passed away a few days later on May 8.
Teresa’s life may not have been anything unusual, but her spirituality was well recognized. On Thursday, May 10, 2012, Miriam Teresa Demjanovich was proclaimed venerable by Pope Benedict XVI. On December 17, 2013, Pope Francis approved the attribution of a miraculous healing to the intercession of Demjanovich, opening the way to her beatification. The healing was the restoration of perfect vision to a boy who had gone legally blind. She was beatified at a ceremony on October 4, 2014, held at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey. This was the first time a beatification had ever taken place in the United States. On January 1, 2016, the Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich Parish in Bayonne, New Jersey was established after the merger of St. Mary Star of the Sea and St. Andrew the Apostle churches.
The Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth continue to pray for the canonization of Miriam Teresa Demjanovich. An American saint of the stature of St. Thérèse would be a great blessing and a source of inspiration to many Americans. And it would come about at a most propitious time. America could certainly use a spiritual jolt. We can join the good sisters in their prayers.