Mission of martyr with local ties lives on

| February 1, 2011 | 0 Comments

As The Catholic Spirit celebrates a century of providing news and inspiration to its readers, it recognized the significant deaths of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the four Maryknoll Missionaries in the faith history of the archdiocese (The Catholic Spirit, Jan. 7). Though these murders occurred decades ago in Central America, the purpose of their lives and mission continues today.

What follows is the story of someone with ties to our local church, an ordinary man who did ordinary things. Next week marks the 29th anniversary of the murder of Brother James Miller.

He was a Christian Brother who could have stayed comfortable teaching at a private Catholic school in St. Paul. Instead, his story reflects a timeless Christian obligation: to reach out to those who cannot reach, to provide services to those who cannot afford it, and to change unjust systems through giving the poor access to a human and Christian education.

Ministry in Guatemala

Christian Brother James Miller taught at (then) Cretin High School in the late 1960s. He taught in Nicaragua through the 1970s and returned to Cretin in 1979.

At his request, Brother James began serving at the Casa Indigena in Huehuetenango, Guate­mala, in 1981. There he gave young men practical training and an academic curriculum, and maintained the buildings and grounds.

As Guatemala was in the midst of a civil war, many young men were “drafted” by force, i.e., literally taken off the streets to be soldiers. (If they refused, their families would be tortured and killed.) Upon hearing of these “drafts,” the brothers would go and retrieve their students from the military station.

Extreme tensions arose between the military and the brothers. Death threats toward the brothers, as well as all vowed religious in Guatemala, were commonplace. And, yet, such threats did not deter any religious from walking with the people who lived in fear and oppression.

On a Saturday afternoon, Feb. 13, 1982, while Brother James was repairing the wall of the school, men in plain clothes approached and unloaded their guns into him, killing him.

Brother James’ mission did not die with him. We are called to reach out to the dear neighbor, to make education accessible to all, and to call into question the systems that continue to oppress and deny the dignity of every person.

Linked to the world

At Brother James’ funeral, Archbishop John Roach said: “[This violence] must stop. . . . You and I must change our course to do the will of God now in what we can do [for peace]. It is no longer possible to remain in a neutral or a detached position . . . [for] we are linked to the peoples of the world as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, and we are linked to our government whose policy affects development, and in some instances non-development, in those countries. . . . We must alleviate the oppression of the poor, and fight for the rights of those who have no rights.”

Today in Rome, the Congregation for Saints’ Causes is reviewing Brother James’ death. At this writing, he has been given the title “Servant of God.”

Lou Anne Tighe is vice president for mission at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul.

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Category: Commentary, Spotlight