Secular Order Discalced Carmelites

This article reprinted with permission from the Washington OCDS publication the"Carmel Clarion"

Carmelite_Symbol.gif (2067 bytes)

(If you do not wish to hear the music..just press the stop button... :)

Sister Miriam of the
Holy Spirit

Jessica Powers

February 7, 1905 - August 18, 1988

Sisters of Pewaukee

Sister Miriam was born Jessica Powers on February 7, 1905, the third of the four children of John Powers and Delia Trainer Powers. When she was just 11 years old, her older sister Dorothy (whom she liked to say was "prettier" and more helpful to their mother - Sister Miriam said that she was the "dreamer") died at 16 years of tuberculosis. Then, two years later her father died of a heart attack while hauling coal for the parish priest. These deaths, particularly as they occurred so close in time, had a deep effect on the sensitive young Jessica Powers.

Jessica Powers Writing 150 x 184.JPG (5298 bytes)

From 1922 to 1923, Jessica attended Marquette University, Milwaukee, in the School of Journalism. From 1923 to 1924, she worked as a secretary in Chicago, returning to the farm in 1924, shortly before her mother's death in 1925. She remained on the farm until 1936, after both her brothers,

Johnny and Danny, had married and needed her no longer.  First she moved to New York City; then, in 1937, she went to live with Jessie and Anton Pegis in Tuckahoe, New York. These good friends provided her with rich opportunities for contact with the academic world and, perhaps even more importantly, with time to concentrate on poetry which she had been writing since grammar school days. Her first book of poetry, The Lantern Burns, was published privately by Clifford Laube, suburban editor of The New York Times and associate editor of Spirit, as well as fellow member of The Catholic Poetry Society of America.

On June 21, 1941, Jessica Powers entered the Carmel of The Mother of God in Milwaukee, WI, becoming on April 25, 1942 (her clothing day), Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit. She was perpetually professed on May 8, 1946, the same year that her second book of poetry, The Place of Splendor, was published. In 1955, the year she was first elected Prioress (she served three terms in all), her charming children's book, The Little Alphabet was published.

During Sister Miriam's second term as Prioress (1958-1961), her doctor sent her to The Sands, a tuberculosis sanitorium. While she wrote no poetry during this period, she worked assiduously (to the concern of the medical-staff) on The Spiritual Realism of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, polishing the English of the sister translator and laboriously checking every word in a French dictionary to ensure accuracy (Sister did not know French).

In 1972, the Reno Carmel printed an artistic edition of The Mountain Sparrow and in 1980, Sister printed a small Advent collection entitled Journey to Bethlehem. The year 1980 also brought out the Carmelite supplement of Proper Offices for the Saints and Blesseds of our Order for which Sister Miriam had worked hard on the appendix of hymns: collecting, editing, and contributing.
Sister Miriam began seeing her poetry in print as early as 1925, having begun her writing in 1916 under the encouragement and tutelage of Dominican Sister Lucille Massart at the "Sisters' school in Mauston."

These bare chronological facts hardly capture the delight of Sister Miriam's personality, or the depth of her spirituality, as those who had the joy of her friendship know. She was full of fun, loving to tell jokes (of which she had a good stock) and telling them extremely well with her Irish sense of humor and her twinkling eyes.

Nor can the facts convey the importance of her influence on this Carmel and on the sisters whom she helped train as a member of the novitiate team. For example, one of her most often repeated words was "sure" as she immediately responded to any request for her help, no matter how busy or how deeply engrossed she was in her own project. She was generous to a remarkable degree. Again, her observance of the vow of obedience was also of high order as she strove to fulfill as perfectly as possible her obligations to the Church, the Pope, and her Prioress.

We admired, too, her humility which is somewhat reflected in the telling, above, of her admiration of Dorothy at her own expense. More difficult to convey is the sweetness of her acceptance of that which came her way, yet her calm dignity as a child of God.

An experience that Sister Miriam sometimes shared with us at recreation seems especially to disclose her own innocence and goodness that gave her great rapport with children and, of more concern here, that may have been a source of her strength.

Once, when she and Jessie Pegis were traveling with two of the Pegis' children, Jessie Pegis was walking ahead with her baby daughter in her arms. Jessica Powers and Richard, four years, followed along the tracks in Grand Central Station, hands firmly clasped. Trains roared and noisily spurted steam close beside them. Glancing down, Jessica Powers saw Richard marching bravely, but with large tears pouring silently down his cheeks. For more than 50 years Sister Miriam treasured and shared this memory as an example of courage in the face of fear. A look at her poems "Millet's `Feeding Her Birds,"' "The Cedar Tree," "This Trackless Solitude," and many others contain further comment on this trait of such significance for her.

Sister Miriam loved not only children, but all people and, further, found much food for her soul in nature, too. How she loved trees and birds, as one can see in even a brief scanning of her poetry. She would be as mesmerized by one of the birds that appear on our grounds: a yellow finch, or kildeer, or thrush, or cardinal, or hawk, or bluejay. And the trees on our grounds always received her concerned attention, being regarded as old friends who had grown in age along with the monastery itself.

On August 18, 1988, at approximately 9:50 a.m., our beloved Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit peacefully died in the arms of Sister Bernadette, Prioress of the Carmel of the Mother of God, who had accompanied her to the hospital in an ambulance on the previous afternoon. Also with Sister Miriam were Sister Mary Agnes and Cecilia Ok-Hee Kim, our postulant who is a nurse, as they had joined Sister at the hospital shortly after their arrival there.
While waiting for the ambulance to come, all the sisters, alerted that Sister Miriam was slipping into a coma, had surrounded Sister Miriam's bed in the infirmary. Although none of us was willing at the time to admit that this illness would be her final one (we did not yet know that Sister Miriam had suffered a massive stroke), we remained at the bedside, praying and just simply being with our dear sister.

The sisters who were at the hospital stayed with Sister Miriam throughout that day (Wednesday) until the next morning when she followed Jesus in the final steps to her home with Him. Although Sister Miriam was in a coma for most of the time, the few instances of seeming consciousness were of great consolation. The sisters kept in constant touch with the monastery, relaying to us each development and each word of the doctor.

Of much comfort to us also was that Sister Miriam had been able to be anointed just before leaving for the hospital because Father Bill Healy, O.C.D., who was our retreat master this year, was to give the last conference during which he planned to anoint the sisters; thus, he had the holy oils in his pocket when we learned that Sister Miriam's condition had become so serious. Additionally, Sister had had the privilege of the sacrament of reconciliation the previous day and had also received Holy Communion at Mass that morning.

Sister Miriam had been failing slowly over the past two years, from osteoporosis, from a hiatal hernia, and from a number of other complications. In spite of some pain and much discomfort, she participated with some heroicity in community events, attending Mass regularly; coming to meals, recreation, and Chapter; and, even, fulfilling tasks of her Carmel Guild work and of business connected with The House at Rest. She was particularly interested in the last two years in working with Bishop Robert F. Morneau, Auxiliary of the Green Bay Diocese, and with Sister Regina Siegfried, ASC, on a book of selected poetry that will now be published posthumously. Sister remained alert mentally, although she complained of her memory's not performing as she wished; only her body seemed to be giving out.

That Sister Miriam through her life and, widely, through her poetry touched hundreds of lives in meaningful ways was witnessed at her funeral. The chapel and the choir were filled with relatives and friends. Fourteen priests concelebrated the Mass with the principal celebrant Bishop Morneau, assisted by our Chaplain, Father Dennis Klemme. Among the concelebrants were two of Sister Miriam's cousins; Father Bernard McGarty of the LaCrosse Diocesan Communications for Press,' Radio, and TV, and Monsignor Francis E. Doherty, Pastor Emeritus of the Madison Diocese.
The eulogy rendered by Bishop Morneau was beautiful in its simple depiction of Sister Miriam with whom the Bishop had a rich spiritual friendship. Then, at the grave side ceremony, officiated at by Father Klemme, Father's remarks again revealed a deep understanding of and love for Sister Miriam as Carmelite and as child of God. Both Bishop Morneau and Father Klemme included masterfully chosen excerpts from Sister Miriam's poetry to reveal the loveliness of her friendship with God - and with people, as well as her influence - on us. The graveside rite ended with a beautifully sung Solemn Salve, led by Father Denis Read, O.C.D.

After the ceremony, many returned to the monastery to share a delicious meal prepared and served by Joanne and Joe Kane, good friends of the monastery. How much this meal sharing meant to those of us who love Sister Miriam was expressed by Sister Eileen Surles, RC (a friend from the New York and the Poetry Society Days), who said that those who had enjoyed Sister Miriam, without knowing certain others whom Sister might mention in conversation, had the joy of meeting each other. That they could meet and exchange reminiscences was especially precious on that day that, many said, should be a feast of joy for Sister Miriam, rather than of sadness for ourselves who have had to part from her for a time.

We of her little community know well how much she loves us, as we love her. Sister Bernadette tells that, during that last week (the days of our retreat), Sister missed being able to "talk with the sisters." While we have deep regrets, too, at having missed those final days of conversation, we are consoled to know that Providence ruled all and - more - that Sister Miriam has not really gone from us, but remains in important ways.

The very night before Sister went to the hospital, she said to one of the sisters that she was quite ready to "go home," except that she would like first to see the final manuscript of the new book. When the sister remonstrated "What about the community?" Sister Miriam replied, "Oh, I can do more for the community afterwards." We believe with all our hearts that she spoke the absolute truth and that she does remain with us in more ways than through her indelible influence. While we certainly pray for her, thus avoiding presumption, we also pray to her, asking her Intercession. Please join us in both prayers.


1.    History of the Order        

13.     750th Anniversary of the Brown Scapular

2.    Basic Identity of Secular Carmelites       

14.     The Brown Scapular 

3.    A Method of Meditation       

15.     Profile of an OCDS

4.    The Divine Office

16.     The Reform    

5.    Prayer,   Little Rock Congress 1976

17.      Practice of the Presence of God   

6.    Prayer,  Fr. Gabriel Barry, OCD

18.     Jessica Powers,OCD 

7.    Meditative Prayer,  Fr. Gabriel Barry, OCD  


8.    Elizabeth of the Trinity 

20.    The Spirituality of Jessica Powers   

9.    Fascinated by God 

21.    Sr. Maravillas of Jesus, OCD

10.  Raphael Kalinowski  

22.    Mother Luisita 

11.  Teresian Carmel, Origin & History   

12.  Message of John Paul II, Brown Scapular


  [ St. Therese of Lisieux the "Little Flower"    I   St. Teresa of Avila  I  St. John of the Cross ]
[ Sr. Francoise-Therese, V.H.M. Edith Stein--St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross ]  
[ Secular Carmelite Information  I  The Carmelite Order The Brown Scapular  ] 
[ Our Inspirational Page  I  Pope John Paul II  I  Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity
[ Elijah Prophet of God  I  Sr. Lucia, the Last Visionary of Fatima ]
The Martyrs of Compiegne   I   About Helen Carlin, OCDS   ]
[   St. Teresa of the Andes   I   Home Page
© Copyright 2001-2011 Help Fellowship, Inc