‘It’s like his spirit is here”: Brother James Miller’s impact still felt at Cretin-Derham Hall

| November 10, 2018 | 0 Comments
Brother James Miller yearbook photo

Brother James Miller yearbook photo. Courtesy Christian Brothers of the Midwest

Cretin-Derham Hall director of campus ministry Lou Anne Tighe considers providential the timing of Pope Francis’ recent recognition of former teacher Christian Brother James Miller.

“This month, we remember always those who have died, and it’s like his spirit is here,” Tighe said of Brother Miller, who taught at then-Cretin High School in St. Paul 1966-1971 and 1979-1980. “We’re very proud and mindful of his presence in the entire building.”

On Nov. 8, Pope Francis recognized Brother Miller as a martyr, paving the way for his beatification.

Brother Miller, who was murdered in 1982 while serving a Catholic boys school in Guatemala, taught Spanish at Cretin and founded the school’s soccer program. He also did maintenance on the building.

“He would leave after first period [Spanish] and go back and do custodial duties,” said Don Geng, a former Cretin teacher who shared a classroom with Brother Miller. “We called him ‘Brother Fix-It’ because he was always walking around with his tools in his kit.”

Between his stints teaching at Cretin, which merged with Derham Hall in 1987, Brother Miller worked in Nicaragua, only leaving when the political situation there threatened his life. He chose to later serve the poor in Guatemala, despite the possibility of murder. He was shot to death by three hooded men Feb. 12, 1982, while he was working on a ladder repairing a wall.

“He really, really felt deeply about the poor in Central America,” said Geng, 65, who now teaches English for South St. Paul Public Schools.

CDH president Frank Miley said Brother Miller’s example is “making the ultimate sacrifice for our faith” and an inspiration.

“The kids [at CDH] know his story, and we couldn’t be happier to know that this man who did the ordinary things with extraordinary attention to detail would be recognized, that his death was in the name of Christ,” said Tighe, who has interviewed Brother Miller’s family and encouraged the commissioning of an icon of the late Christian Brother in past years.

Tighe became was introduced to Brother Miller’s story as a student at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in Winona, also Brother Miller’s alma mater and a Christian Brother school. She researched his life and later connected with his family.

Tighe then commissioned from local artist Nicholas Markell an icon of Brother Miller, which depicts him in overalls and holding a lamb.

Geng said Brother Miller wore overalls often, including when they took evening classes at St. Paul College in St. Paul in 1981. Miller took a welding class while Geng was learning computer science.

“The next day, he would go to [Spanish] class and simply wore them, and there would be burns in them,” Geng said of the overalls. “That’s what he was about – a Christian Brother, a vow of poverty.”

Brother Miller was born in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and grew up working on his family’s farm. A cause for his canonization opened in 2009, and later that year, Pope Benedict XVI gave him the title “Servant of God.”

“Cretin-Derham Hall is truly blessed to count Brother James Miller among those who taught so many Cretin graduates,” Miley said.

Tighe said people remember Brother Miller for his example and work ethic. She said his past students said he had a well-structured classroom, expecting discipline and achievement of his students.

“There were kids that loved him as a teacher,” Tighe said.

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