Over the last few weeks, there has been considerable attention given to an American whom the Church was preparing to beatify — Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.
The attention on Sheen makes sense — even beyond the drama of the ups and downs of his cause for canonization — since he is probably the most influential American Catholic of all time, who has nourished the faith not only of millions during his lifetime but millions still today, more than 40 years after his death.
One of the unfortunate consequences of the hasty announcement and precipitate postponement of the rites raising Sheen to the altars, however, was that it took all of the attention away from the Dec. 7 beatification of another American whose cause for canonization had been getting planned ever since Pope Francis signed the decree authorizing it 13 months ago and the official date was announced in April: LaSallian Brother James Alfred Miller, a native of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, who was martyred for the faith in Guatemala in 1982.
Pope Francis, in his 2018 exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et Exsultate, wrote about the “saints next door,” and in many ways Blessed James is an all-American holy neighbor. He was born in 1944 and grew up working hard on his family’s dairy and chicken farm in Custer, Wisconsin, praying at home, and wanting to be priest. He was fascinated by other countries, reading an encyclopedia from cover to cover to get to know foreign countries and regions where he hoped to bring the faith.
When he entered Pacelli High School and met the Brothers of the Christian Schools, he quickly discerned he had a vocation to share in their educational apostolate. He entered the juniorate of the community at 15 (much like boys at that time could enter high school seminaries at 14), became a postulant and novice at 18, professed first vows at 21 and final vows at 26. He was sent by the Christian Brothers to St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota, where, hoping to share in their missionary apostolates, he got Bachelors’ and Master’s degrees in Spanish.
He was described by those who knew him as likeable, sociable, simple, humble, generous, honest, kind, intelligent, ordered, courageous, prayerful, zealous and hardworking. His fellow Christian Brothers dubbed him a “common, good guy,” “very human,” “a man of union and communion,” who had the “gift of gab,” a perpetual smile, a “deep faith and love for his religious vocation,” and a contagious, boisterous guffaw.
He also, they noted, was perpetually “late to class and community prayers,” something that Cardinal José Luis Lacunza of Panama, presiding over his beatification, joked had prepared him very well for service in Latin America, “where punctuality is not numbered among our virtues!”
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