Thursday, September 21, 2023

Loving God and neighbor without distinction: A pontifical institute of women religious of the Roman Catholic Church


Eulogy for Sister Miriam Vaughan, March 29, 1929-July 25, 2015

Sister Miriam Vaughan
Sister Miriam Vaughan

VIGIL: Tuesday, July 28, 2015, Nazareth Motherhouse, Concordia
EULOGIST: Sister Janet Lander


This evening is the Vigil of the Feast of St. Martha, Martha to whom Jesus announced, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Trusting in that promise we celebrate together, in this prayer vigil, the life of another Martha who has just entered the Communion of Saints.

Martha Lou Vaughan was born on March 29, 1929, in St. Anthony Hospital, Oklahoma City, shortly after her twin, Mary Lee. Their parents, Harold Edward Vaughan and Louise Elizabeth Knaup Vaughan, had six children in all. Martha Lou was the third. Their children were Shirley, known to us as Sister Rose, then the twins Mary Lee, known to us as Sister Louise Marie, and Martha Lou, who received the name Sister Miriam Edward. Their younger siblings were James Vaughan, Betty Jo Letourneau and Dorothy Ann Otott. Only James and Dorothy are still living. Miriam often spoke in gratitude for her family and the loving environment of their home life. As she recounted these early years I was left with the impression that it was a home marked by hospitality, and by respect for the unique giftedness of each person.

The twins attended Catholic elementary school in Oklahoma City and Concordia, Kan., and graduated from Concordia Catholic High School on May 14, 1947, as co-valedictorians. During these growing up years they took piano lessons and were involved in many activities in their parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, as well as at school. There they were baton twirlers and cheerleaders. Having received Marymount Merit Scholarships, they enrolled at Marymount College in the fall of ’47, and then entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia on Feb. 2, 1948. They were received into the novitiate in August 1948. Living members of their band are Sisters Charlotte Lutgen, Ann Vincent Glatter, Gilberta Appelhans and Vera Klaus.

After making First Profession of Vows on Aug. 15, 1949, Miriam was sent to Marymount College to continue her degree in psychology. The following year she began teaching in elementary education, ministering first at Leoville Public Grade School and then teaching in the Catholic elementary schools in Salina, Plainville, Junction City, and then finally serving as both teacher and principal of Sacred Heart Grade School in Aurora, Ill. In her life review she states, “These years of teaching young people and living community life with the Sisters of St. Joseph carry with them many fond memories.” On Aug. 15, 1952, Sister Miriam made her final vows as a Sister of St. Joseph of Concordia.

Having graduated with her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Marymount in 1958 and her master’s in psychology from St. Louis University in 1960, Miriam joined the faculty of Marymount as an instructor in psychology in the fall of 1960. In 1967 she earned a Ph.D. in experimental psychology, with a minor in statistics and research methodology, from St. Louis University, as well as certification from the State of Kansas as a psychologist. She also became a professor at Kansas State University. In 1970 Miriam became the chair of the Marymount College Psychology Department and continued to serve there until 1980. She held memberships in the Kansas Psychological Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Educational Research Association and the Menninger Foundation. Reflecting on her years at Marymount, Miriam said, “A rewarding factor in teaching psychology at Marymount College was the conviction that the students would imbibe a Christian approach to the fields of the social sciences.”

In the early 1980s Miriam began working as a research analyst for the CSJ Healthcare Task Force, the CSJ Services Project and the Diocesan Chancery in Salina. After some courses in canon law at Catholic University, Washington, D.C., she was appointed by Bishop Daniel Kucera to serve in the Marriage Tribunal as an Advocate and Court Expert, in addition to being a research analyst and working in the diocesan archives. She experienced this new sort of ministry as a profound call to minister to those who were suffering emotionally and physically, particularly because of difficult marriages.

During these same years she served on the Board of Governors of the Kansas Psychological Association and on St. John’s Hospital Board, from 1982 to 1987. In addition she was elected to the Sisters of St. Joseph Executive Board, serving from 1975-79 and again 1981-83. Miriam was a brilliant lifelong learner with a long list of achievements and awards to match. Her great intelligence and consistent excellence marked the many works to which she gave herself with dedication.

In 1992, Sister Miriam moved to the Motherhouse to offer loving support to her twin Sister Louise Marie, who had become seriously ill. Bishop George Fitzsimons transferred the Sisters’ tribunal office to the Motherhouse so that their ministry might continue, which it did until May 1995 when they retired. In 1996 Miriam was appointed as a Focus Planner for the Governance Committee Research. This is the last ministry she names in her life review, but her manner of loving service never stopped. In her yearly commitment she frequently recommitted herself to Senate Enactments, to love for God’s creation and “to integrate contemplation and acts of compassion in a war-torn world,” but most especially to being present to others who were suffering, particularly her sisters in community.

When Sister Louise Marie needed to move to Mt. Joseph Senior Village in 2004, Miriam accompanied her there. It goes without saying that Miriam and Louise Marie were close in mind and heart, from the womb onward. For example, at the time of their confirmation, they chose as their confirmation saints the baptismal saints of each other, Mary and Martha! They carried within them a unique mindfulness that Miriam referred to as the “twinship.” Their special connection throughout life was marked by trust, encouragement and compassion, never competition. In keeping with the meaning of the word “compassion,” “to suffer with,” Miriam felt not for, but with others. Eventually Miriam was diagnosed with the same debilitating disease from which Louise Marie suffered. Though she rarely talked about this, it continued to deepen the grace of compassion in her. Her sensitivity embraced not just Louise Marie, but community members at the Motherhouse, and later at Mt. Joseph.

Sister Miriam lost her lifelong companion when Louise Marie died on Nov. 12, 2012.

Although Miriam lived 67 years as a the Sisters of St. Joseph, I only got to know her well in the last 10 when it was my privilege to walk with Miriam in spiritual companioning. At the end of these sessions I was often surprised when she would turn the tables and offer me words of wisdom, affirmation and gratitude. I was always impressed at how steeped she was in our spirit and spirituality. Two Maxims of the Little Institute that she often quoted in her yearly Commitment to Mission and Ministry seem to express much of what she was striving to live and to be.

In Maxim 11 we hear, “Always speak favorably of others and value highly the good in them, excusing and covering up, in the best way you can, the deficiencies they might have.” Kindness was a hallmark of Miriam’s way of life. In last year’s commitment she said, “My ‘work’ will be doing little acts of kindness wherever I am living. I desire always to be a ‘St. Joseph’ in all I do for others, especially the ‘ones’ left out.” In recent weeks this became more and more pronounced in her care for the other Sisters at Mt. Joseph, especially in the special care she demonstrated towards Sister Gilberta Appelhans, her band member.

Maxim 77 seemed to be Miriam’s favorite: “Fulfill all the duties of the great and true love of God, and you will fulfill the rest.” This maxim was her consolation when she felt a tug towards external perfection or a restlessness to improve her prayer life. In our conversations she often reflected on the Ignatian concept of “striving for the more.” But in the end, the more came down to love. Praying better became resting in that Love; and striving became loving.

From the very last visit I had with Miriam this summer, one thing stood out: her blessed contentment, a contentment full of inner peace and gratitude for just about everything about her life, in the past and present. There seemed to be about her the soft radiance of a life fully given and fully given over in love. I found myself remembering some of the other Maxims of our founder, Jean-Pierre Médaille, which Miriam was demonstrating. In her life and in his words,

“Seek in everything God’s contentment and not anything else, and the better to practice this, remember in the entire living out of your life, in desolation, in sickness, etc., to desire God’s greater contentment without giving a thought to your own …” (Maxim 26)

“…find your contentment only in the accomplishment of God’s contentment.” (Maxim 79)

“Prefer always the will and the contentment of others to you own…”(Maxim 50)

And finally, “In your greatest troubles and dangers hope with a firm confidence not that God will comfort or deliver you but that God will effect in you and through you God’s holy and loving will and live perfectly at peace with this hope. (Maxim 31).

Miriam, God has indeed effected in you and through you God’s holy and loving will. Your life has been blessing to me and to each of us here present, family, friends and community. It is a profound privilege to keep vigil with you this evening. May you now know the fullness of contentment in God’s love, reunited with your beloved twin, Louise Marie, and all other family and community members who have gone ahead of you.

• • • • • • •

Memorials for Sister Miriam Vaughan may be given to the Sisters of St. Joseph Health Care/Retirement Fund or the Apostolic Works of the Sisters; P.O Box 279, Concordia KS 66901. To make an online donation in Sister Miriam’s memory, click on the button below:




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