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April 13, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – She is a joy to be around. Her constant, prayerful presence, sitting and keeping vigil with many of the Sisters as they lie dying. Her great smile lights up every room she enters. She is committed to showing up every day with joy and gladness. She always looks out for everyone.
These are some of the many ways that Adrian Dominican Sisters, Associates, Co-workers, and friends to describe Sister Miriam Joseph Lekan on the occasion of her 100th birthday. The spirit of gratitude, admiration, and love was present April 12, 2023, during a birthday celebration, which began with Mass in her honor.
Sister Sharon Spanbauer, Mission Prioress of Holy Rosary Mission Chapter based in Adrian, greeted the assembly, noting that Sister Miriam Joseph was joining the ranks of beloved Adrian Dominican centenarians. “We pray that Sister Miriam Joseph’s heart will be overflowing with joy, knowing the countless ways she blesses our daily lives,” Sister Sharon said.
In a reflection on the Gospel story of the risen Jesus’ encounter with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Sister Judy Friedel, OP, Chapter Prioress of Holy Rosary Mission Chapter, noted the similarity between Jesus’ outreach to the disciples and Sister Miriam Joseph’s to the people she encounters. “Jesus and Miriam enjoy the vitality and wonder of communion with God’s people,” Sister Judy said. “May we endeavor to do so as well, even more consciously and eagerly these Easter days.”
Left: Sister Judy Friedel, OP, Chapter Prioress of the Holy Rosary Mission Chapter, offers a reflection during a special Mass on April 12, 2023, marking Sister Miriam Joseph Lekan’s 100th birthday; Center: Father James Hug, SJ, priest chaplain for the Adrian Dominican Sisters, greets Sister Miriam Joseph Lekan; Right: The assembly at Mass offers the traditional Dominican Blessing to Sister Miriam Joseph Lekan
During the afternoon celebration, Sister Judy read some of the many responses to the question of the importance of celebrating Sister Miriam Joseph’s 100th birthday. Sister Miriam Joseph also received a proclamation from Angela Sword Heath, Mayor of Adrian; a Pontifical Blessing from Pope Francis; more than 100 birthday cards; and two bouquets: one from Holy Rosary Mission Chapter and the other from St. Augustine Health Campus, a senior living facility in Cleveland where Sister Miriam Joseph ministered for many years.
Sister Elise D. García, OP, Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Congregation, also paid tribute to her. “Such great love we have for you,” she told Sister Miriam Joseph. “I think you can feel that deep gratitude to you for the life you have given to so many of us and to so many people on God’s Earth.” Sister Elise also spoke of the blessing she received from Sister Miriam Joseph’s presence during daily Mass and her loving presence to the Sisters who are dying.
Sister Miriam Joseph responded with heart-felt thanksgiving to all assembled for her birthday.
Left: Sister Judy Friedel, OP, Chapter Prioress of Holy Rosary Mission Chapter, presents a proclamation from Adrian Mayor Angela Sword Heath to Sister Miriam Joseph Lekan; Right: Sister Elise D. García, OP, Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Congregation, offers words of gratitude and appreciation to Sister Miriam Joseph Lekan.
Sister Miriam Joseph’s Early Life
“Living a religious life is all planned for me, [involving] complete trust in God in every challenge that came up,” she said in an interview before the celebration. She expressed her “deep appreciation for all the friendships and the assistance that I had throughout all these years – and it doesn’t feel like 81 years as a nun and 100 years chronologically.”
Born on April 10, 1923, in Cleveland, Ohio, and baptized Josephine Bernadette Lekan, she was the ninth of the 12 children of Joseph and Frances (Perko) Lekan. Like most men in their neighborhood, Joseph worked in the American Steel and Wire Company. “Growing up during the Depression years, we all learned what it meant to live a life of hardship,” Sister Miriam Joseph said.
The family was very happy when Josephine entered the Adrian Dominican Congregation in June 1942. “I went to school with Adrian Dominican Sisters for eight years” at St. Lawrence in Cleveland, Sister Miriam Joseph recalled. While attending Holy Name, a co-ed high school with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, she felt a call to religious life. She delayed entering the Adrian Dominican Congregation for a year so that she could spend time with her oldest brother, who was returning home from the seminary in Switzerland.
Years in Mission
She took her religious name, Sister Miriam Joseph, when she was received into the novitiate on December 31, 1942. She professed first vows on January 4, 1944, and final vows on January 4, 1949. Sister Miriam Joseph received a bachelor's degree in Latin from Siena Heights College (University) in Adrian in 1952 and a master's degree in Latin from DePaul University, Chicago, in 1959.
Sister Miriam Joseph spent the first 37 years of ministry in education and recalled the years when Adrian Dominican Sisters received an assignment to ministry every year in August. “Each appointment was kind of a challenge – not knowing what that new appointment was going to be and yet it always ended up in a happy ministry, wherever it was,” she said.
Education ministry took Sister Miriam Joseph to classrooms in Illinois, Michigan, Florida, and Ohio. While she enjoyed her time in all of the schools, two stand out in her memory. She was one of two Adrian Dominican Sisters sent to Grand Ledge – near Lansing, Michigan – to open St. Michael School. “I couldn’t believe when I was assigned to open a school,” she said. “The first summer I had to come to Adrian and take administration classes.”
She also has special memories of Bishop Quarter, a boarding school for boys in Oak Park, Illinois. “If you know anything about boarding school, you’re on duty 24 hours out of 24,” she said. She worked with the first- and second-grade students. She recalled one young student still awake after 10 p.m. because he couldn’t go to sleep. She asked if he was feeling lonesome. “He sat up and threw his arms around me,” she recalled. “That’s all he needed was giving a hug to someone besides his mother.”
During her last teaching assignment at St. Francis Xavier, Medina, Ohio, Sister Miriam asked for – and received – permission to train to be a licensed practical nurse. She studied at Lakewood School of Practical Nursing in Lakewood, Ohio, and, when she had passed the Boards, was hired at St. John Hospital in Cleveland. She worked there for eight years – until the hospital closed. She then worked for the newly established St. Augustine Health Campus, a senior living facility, until her retirement in July 2000. “I loved both teaching when I did it and I liked nursing,” Sister Miriam Joseph said. “It might be my inner liking to serve people.”
Sister Miriam said she was surprised to be turning 100. “I don’t look at the numbers,” she said. “I don’t think of it as 100. I’m just so grateful for these 81 years that I’ve been an Adrian Dominican. God was just in the divine plan for me, 81 years ago.”
View highlights from the celebration below.
July 15, 2022, Shaker Heights, Ohio – St. Dominic School in Shaker Heights, Ohio – where 30 Adrian Dominican Sisters and 18 former Adrian Dominican Sisters taught from 1952 to 1978 – was named one of 27 Green Ribbon Schools and the only one in Ohio.
The U.S. Department of Education designates schools as Green Ribbon for their “innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness and ensure effective sustainability education,” according to a press release issued by the Department.
“This year’s U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools honorees have raised the bar for sustainability, healthy and safe school environments, and hands-on learning experiences that connect students of all ages to the world around them,” said Miguel Cardona, Secretary of Education.
In a document highlighting the achievements of Green Ribbon Schools, the Department of Education notes St. Dominic School’s 2016 Caring for God’s Creation Initiative, in which lights were upgraded to LED bulbs and low-flow fixtures and water bottle filling stations were installed. Students are encouraged to bring reusable water bottles to school and the cafeteria offers reusable trays, cups, and flatware. About a quarter of the school’s lunches include locally grown and produced foods.
St. Dominic School offers STREAM education, focusing on Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. Science classes focus on ways to interact respectfully with living things and the environment, and each grade also focuses on solving infrastructure problems. In addition, students in grades 5 to 8 are invited to join the Earth Ambassadors, learning about environmental issues at the school and beyond and organizing the school’s observance of Earth Day each year.
Sustainability has also been a focus of the Adrian Dominican Sisters. Both the 2016 General Chapter and the recent June 27-July 2, 2022, General Chapter have approved Enactments calling the Congregation to efforts at sustainability. The 2022 Enactment calls on the Adrian Dominican Sisters to become a Laudato Si’ Congregation, collaborating with other Catholic organizations throughout the world in the seven-year, seven-goal Laudato Si’ Action Platform. The 2015 encyclical by Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ calls on all people of goodwill to work toward the healing of Earth, our “common home.”