Sister John Therese Miller

My pathway toward the goal of following the Lord was not always rose-strewn, but I believe that our loving God has accompanied me every step of the way.

I grew up in a good family, but one totally without religion because my parents had an intense dislike for organized religion in general, and the Catholic Church in particular. Since I was younger than the required age to start school in 1944, my mother falsified my age on the registration form; as a result, I was expelled from the public school in the first days of first grade.

Because there was no place to turn for schooling other than the parochial system, my brother, sister, and I were enrolled at St. Agatha School where I met the first Sister I had ever seen! At the age of five, it was from Sister Eusebia Vandehey that I first learned about God, Jesus, Our Lady, the Sacraments, Heaven, the Saints, and so much more! I was then privileged to be taught by our Sisters all through grade school. I was thoroughly impressed not only by their goodness, their happiness, their simplicity of life, and the fine education they provided, but most of all by their evident love for the Lord and for each other!

Though I wasn’t taught by the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon in high school, I never forgot them! I kept in touch with Sister Margaret Ellen Bowen, who had been my sixth-grade teacher and our basketball coach in grades six through eight. After graduating from Milwaukie High School, I won a harp scholarship to Holy Names College in Spokane, Washington, and enrolled as a freshman.

Since my parents had always told us that at eighteen we could choose whatever religion we wanted, I was baptized at St. Aloysius in Spokane on my eighteenth birthday and confirmed there in May. When I returned home from my freshman year I told my parents that I had joined the Church; their reaction was as extreme as if I had disgraced the family, and as a result it became necessary to leave home. I worked as a medical secretary at Emanuel Hospital and lived in an apartment in Portland with my sister for many months.

Since my junior year in high school, I had thought at times that I was being called to serve God through marriage and, at other times, through religious life; I vacillated between the two and struggled with the choice. However, I remembered being told that I should pray to know my vocation and that, when it was time, I would know God’s will for me and would feel a great peace. Happily that proved to be true. For a significant period of time, I felt certain that God was calling me to religious life and I felt a deep peace. I applied to the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon and my application was accepted! But, two months after entering the Convent, while still a postulant, my parents placed a formidable block in the road — they so strongly believed that I was misguided that they contested my decision by filing a lawsuit against the Community. Needless to say, there was much pain for all — the family, the Sisters, and me.  In the end, though I had not yet reached the legal age of 21, the judge ruled in favor of my remaining in the Community. After the court trial, my parents continued to reject my efforts to communicate with them. Then, thank God, after twelve years reconciliation gradually began.

After entrance I completed a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in music education. I loved my 50-year ministry in music: three years at St. Andrew’s in northeast Portland, 47 years at Valley Catholic Music School, and 37 years at Valley Catholic School. I also served concurrently in Community leadership for many years. At the present time, I am thoroughly enjoying teaching English as a second language.

The initial path was far from easy, and some major sacrifices had to be made in order to remain true to the call and to myself. The Lord, faithful to His promise to be with us always, gave me peace and joy throughout. I share my story in the hope that others facing obstacles in following their vocation might find encouragement. These fifty-six years in His service have been tremendously happy ones. I am most grateful to God for having called me to serve Him in religious life, and for having called me to the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon!

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