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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.
October 20, 2022, Fort Lauderdale, Florida – If you want to die well, make peace with yourself, with God, and with your past.
That is the message that Sister Xiomara Méndez-Hernández, OP, has for people in the United States – especially for the many people who try to deny or ignore the reality of death. Sister Xiomara recently spoke to U.S. Catholic about her experience as a chaplain at Loyola University Medical Center outside of Chicago during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. She is now a chaplain at Holy Cross Hospital-Trinity Health in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
In the interview, Sister Xiomara recalled the experience of the first death of COVID-19 at Loyola University Medical Center – and of the multiple deaths that the chaplains, doctors, and nurses witnessed during the early weeks of the pandemic. “In less than three months, we had more than 500 deaths,” she said. “Every single day we accompanied families by phone. We were beyond exhausted.”
Sister Xiomara said the chaplains not only accompanied the patients and their families, but also the “whole team” of health care professionals and those who helped them, such as the people who cleaned the hospital rooms. “That resiliency and collaboration helped us prevent burnout and keep going,” she said.
Sister Xiomara said that the experience of death of the patient and the families depends on the circumstances and on the culture of the people involved. Sister Xiomara was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, a community-oriented society with close families and communities. “For us, death is part of life,” she said. In the United States, “many people live in denial, but the truth is: if you are alive, you will die.”
As a chaplain, Sister Xiomara has advice on how to think about death. “Try to make peace with yourself first,” she said. “Then make your peace with God.” She pointed to the importance of living a good life to prepare for death. “I think the important thing is to live life in the present and be the best human being you can be,” she said. “Try to live in peace, to make peace, to build peace, and to live authentically. Try to do things that give life. That is all you can take with you.”
Read the entire interview, published in the November 2022 issue of U.S. Catholic, Vol. 87, No. 11.