“Of all the [possible] sainthood stories I was interested in doing, this was my favorite. I absolutely had to do an episode on Blessed Miriam Teresa!”
So says Michael O’Neill, who is writing, producing, and directing a series for EWTN entitled: “They Might Be Saints.” Viewers may remember previous episodes which profiled Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey, the Martyrs of La Florida, and Bishop Frederic Baraga. But in this episode, O’Neill is talking about Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, whose beautiful story airs 5:30 p.m. ET, Friday, May 8; 4:30 a.m. ET and 2:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, May 9 on EWTN. (Find EWTN at www.ewtn.com/tv/channel-finder.
O’Neill says the would-be saint was the first American to be beatified on U.S. soil. This “Jersey girl,” as one Sister of Charity called her during the episode, graduated from the College of St. Elizabeth, which is located across from the convent of the Sisters of Charity in Convent Station, N.J. A school for younger students is also located inside the convent. No surprise then that Miriam Teresa joined that order, and then began teaching at the convent school, after a brief stint teaching elsewhere. In fact, students at this still active school were used as extras during the filming!
But it’s the miracle of a young boy, who is the first and only person in history to be healed of macular degeneration, either medically or miraculously, that especially caught O’Neill’s attention.
As a student, 8-year-old Michael Mencer endured the taunts of his classmates who called him “fish eye” because the little boy’s failing eyesight only permitted him to see out of the corners of his eyes. The child could never catch a baseball or interact with his peers in a normal way.
Fortunately, O’Neill said his school teacher was also head of the Sister Miriam Teresa League of Prayer, an association that promotes Sister’s cause for canonization. As O’Neill tells it, the teacher told her students: “Here’s somebody [Michael Mencer] who needs prayers. Let’s all pray together. She had the entire school praying for him.”
Although Michael Mencer died a year before this episode was filmed, his mother spoke with O’Neill. Her story, about the day she realized her son, who only had 20/200 vision, was healed is movingly re-enacted in this episode.
“There’s a beautiful scene: His mother is cooking dinner. Michael comes home from school. He taps his mother, who turns, and he looks at her straight in the eye and hands her the relic! We see the mother and son reacting for the first time!”
This episode also takes viewers through the canonization process and how this miracle was approved. The report of this miracle was hidden among the canonization files for 28 years. Its discovery was something of a miracle in itself! Tune in to learn more.
Sister Miriam Teresa made her final vows on her death bed, at the tender age of 24. So while her life, especially her life in the convent, was short, the priest chaplain, who was also her confessor, very quickly realized that the young novice was a mystic with great spiritual insights. The priest was so impressed, he asked Sister Miriam Teresa to secretly write the conferences he delivered to other postulants! This remained a secret until after her death.
Before she died, Sister Miriam Teresa gave the priest her notes from the conferences as well as permission to publish them. O’Neill says that the central message of the book, “Greater Perfection” by Bl. Miriam Teresa, is a universal call to holiness. “We think holiness is only for special people, but all of us can find Christ in our lives.”
The next episode of “They Might Be Saints” will focus on Venerable Patrick Peyton, otherwise known as the Rosary Priest, who is most famous for coining the phrase: “The family that prays together, stays together.” Before Pope John Paul II, O’Neill says that during his worldwide Rosary Crusades, Father Peyton was seen live by more people than anyone in the history of the world. Look for that episode at 1:30 p.m. ET, Wednesday, June 3 and 11 p.m. ET, Thursday, June 4.
EWTN Publishing has also asked O’Neill to write a book to go with the series, which could be available this year or next.
But, for now, O’Neill is excited that the public will have the opportunity to find out more about Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich.
“She was a sister who died young,” he says. “A lot of young people may be inspired. Holiness is for everyone; that was Miriam Teresa’s message. We can all find God at any place in our lives. I’m excited that this came out so well!”