In this episode of Set Apart, Rocky, with the help of Sister Renita Brummer, FSOLPH, shares the story of Sister Miriam Sitarz, FSOLPH. Sr Miriam was a Franciscan Sister of Our Lady of Perpetual Help of 84 years, passing away on June 3, 2017, at 100 years of age. In this episode, Sr Renita shares a brief history of Sr Miriam's life and her memories of her, and Rocky shares the statements of community friends and former student's of Sr Miriam.
In the last episode of Set Apart I shared my interview with Sr Renita Brummer. She is a Franciscan Sister of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. So too was Sr Miriam Sitarz. Sr Miriam entered the community of the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in 1930. She was a teacher and a musician, spreading joy and inspiring all of those that she met. On June 3, 2017, her 100th birthday, Sr Miriam Sitarz passed away.
In her 84 years as a sister, Sr Miriam touched the lives of many, across generations and states. As a teacher, she taught in southwest Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Colorado, Ohio, Nebraska, and West Virginia. And, in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Sr Miriam taught in St. Louis, DeSoto, Portage Des Sioux, and Sullivan. She was also a principal and an accomplished musician. She is remembered fondly by many, including Sr Renita Brummer.
When I spoke with Sr Renita I asked her to share with me some of Sr Miriam Sitarz story so that I may capture her life in a memorial podcast for this series. She was delighted to do so and shared with me a beautiful account of her experiences with Sr Miriam and the life and legacy that Sr Miriam has left behind.
Sr Miriam Sitarz was a Franciscan Sister of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. She was initially from Chicago Heights, Illinois. She knew our sisters there. And, came from a wonderful, strong Catholic, Polish parish. And, as a little girl, and as she knew our sisters, she saw them as being very joyful persons. And, at a quite young age, she also decided that she wanted to be a sister like that and to be joyful. And, Sister Miriam had a real sense of music. I think she was kind of born with a song in her heart and her whole life that music was pouring out of her soul. So, she became a teacher through all the years that she taught she taught in many places because she was a very affable, flexible person. And, when you have those kinds of gifts, you tend to go many places and do many diverse things. So, she taught in the south, in Louisiana. She was in the south-west. She was in Nebraska. She was in Chicago. And, she was a most remarkable teacher of music and of literature. She was an avid reader, and she could have the classics come alive for seventh and eighth graders, and have them love to read. And, you know see the story behind the words. She really was a lover of words. And, she knew how to use words to engage people's spirits. In fact, at one parish where she was, the pastor realized she had such a gift for music. So, he's the one that approached the congregation and asked if he could help send her up to Canada, actually to the Gregorian Institute of America, but the University of Montreal. So, she got her bachelor's degree in church music from there in 1951, which was a little unheard of then. So, she was into music, into words, and she was also a person within our own community who everybody felt some kind of a connection with because she had a lighthearted spirit and was so joyful.
She was also a coupon clipper. She knew how to live economically. So, she'd be either clipping coupons, or she would be clipping quotes that she found. And, she'd send [those quote clippings in] notes to people. We found there were about four big notebooks where she had collected sayings. She'd clip them off of cards or out of the newspaper. And, she made all these volumes of wonderful quotes and saying. And, these quotes were everything from Saint Augustine to Abraham Lincoln to Eleanor Roosevelt to Lao-Tzu to Thomas Berry to Mother Teresa. The whole range. She just was a collector of wisdom so she could share that with other people.
She taught and did all of this for years and years and years. And, when she was no longer able to really teach she and another sister, a dear friend of hers, they requested to join our sisters who were in West Virginia, and perhaps they could simply be a presence and help out however. Our sisters there worked in a parish, and they also had a kind of a large social service agency for those who needed help in that kind of that three county area. So, they helped with that. And, then they found out that up in the hills of West Virginia there were communities of people who had no one to visit them, bring them the sacraments, or be a presence with them. So, here these two little sisters, you know, about 85 [years of age] requested of the community asking if they could move to this area of West Virginia and minister to the people in the mountains and hills of this part of West Virginia. Well, our sisters went and said, “well there was really a need sisters, but there is no way we're going to permit you to drive on these mountains.” So, someone offered to drive them. So, they were a presence there for ten years, doing remarkable things. And then, eventually, Sr Miriam needed to retire and came here to St. Louis. But, her sense of humor, and her jokes, and her her presence, and she had the most unique laughter, and all her gathering of words through the years, that just endeared her to everybody.
And, the last six months she was in a memory unit, but she was still very present and joyful in the moment. She didn't know what came before or what came after. And, it was really the morning of her 100th birthday that I gathered with some of the sisters and said, “you know what, it’s Sr Miriam's 100th birthday, she might not realize that, but I think we ought to have a little party.” So, we had some breakfast rolls, and we told stories of her life, and we sang to her. And then, a small group of our sisters, maybe about 20 of them, we went to her room where she was sitting up in a Geri chair, and we sang Happy Birthday to her. And, when we sang the Celtic Hallelujah she kind of opened her eyes and raised her arm and was like she was singing with us. And, I said a prayer of blessing, you know, that it was 100 years ago today that through her her wonderful parents Julia and Michael she took that first breath of life. And so, through 100 years God has been breathing this life in her, and all the words you know. So, we bless her on her way because soon she's going to come full circle and return to God. Well, we all left. And, at three o'clock that afternoon she did. She died. So, it's just . . . What a way to live your life you know.
This was Pentecost weekend that she died. So, this on Saturday, June 3rd, on her 100th birthday, that she died. And, that Thursday before that, she was on hospice. And, I went to sit with her for a time as she was on hospice, and she was in bed. Not really connecting very well. I didn't think she was very aware, but I still . . . It was such a graced moment to be present with her, knowing for she was so close to slipping to the other side, and the fullness of life. So, I prayed with her a little and sat. And then, I sang what I knew were some of her favorite songs. And, I was singing that little verse from “How Great Thou Art,” just kind of singing it, “Christ shall come with shouts of acclamation, with joy shall feel my heart, and I shall bow in humble adoration, and sing how great my God, how great thou art.” And, I'm kind of singing that to her, and she opened her eyes. And, she turned to me, and she said so clearly, “you can go to sleep now.” And, I thought “okay, I can take a hint. She's done with me trying to prayer and singer on her way.” But, as I think of that there's a wonderful story of Clare of Assisi who, when she was near the end of her life (she had a very long illness in her life), she said, “go forward my soul, and be not afraid because he who created you and loved you will receive you.” And, I just love that image. So, I'm thinking back now to when Sr Miriam turned to me and said, “you can go to sleep now.” She wasn't telling me to stop. I think she was saying, “yes, I'm at peace and I can go now. I'm just waiting for the moment,” you know.
But, she really was a remarkable person. And, of course, you know, when you hear the stories from students that she taught 30 years ago, she so empowered each one to believe in their own goodness and their own capacity.
So, that's our little Sr Miriam.
Advised by Sr Renita, I went to the Facebook page of the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, where the community shared a photo of Sr Miriam and shared the news of her passing. There I found beautiful and heartfelt messages from her past students and community friends, sharing the joy and inspiration Sr Miriam brought to their lives.
One student wrote: Thank you Sister Miriam. I remember from St Casimir 4th grade music class and Glee club. Hope you're enjoying beautiful music forever.
Another wrote: She was one of the best! Gave me love for poetry, music and reading comprehension. Watch over us from your place in heaven!
And, another commenter wrote: I remember Sister from her time spent at St. Frederick High School in Monroe La. She was a wonderful person & teacher. She touched lots of lives while she was there. Rest in peace Sister.