- Harriet Orrell
- BBC World Service
A 92-year-old American nun, who took vows of silence, loneliness and poverty, died on June 5 in the monastery where she resided for the last three decades of her life.
However, the complete life story of the hermana Mary Joseph it is far from ordinary.
Until she gave up everything to dedicate her life to prayer, she was known as Ann Russell Miller, a wealthy San Francisco celebrity who threw lavish parties, attended opera performances frequently, and was the mother of ten children.
Born in 1928, Ann dreamed of becoming a nun, but fell in love instead.
At 20 she married Richard Miller, who later became vice president of Pacific Gas and Electric, a utility company.
“At 27 he already had five children,” says his youngest son, Mark Miller, “and then he had five more, a basketball team of each sex. Planned Parenthood,” he called him.
“I had a million friends. I smoked, drank and played cards. She was also an open water swimmer, “she adds.
“He was driving so fast and he was so reckless that people got out of his car with one foot sore from hitting the imaginary brakes. He quit smoking, alcohol and caffeine the same day and somehow managed not to commit a homicide.” says his son humorously.
An “unusual” nun
Ann raised her family in a nine-room mansion overlooking San Francisco Bay and was known for taking her friends on vacations skiing, yachting in the Mediterranean, and archaeological digs.
He served on 22 different boards of directors and raised money for talented college students, the homeless, and the Catholic Church.
Her husband died of cancer in 1984 and it was then that she began the long and thoughtful journey to join one of the strictest orders of nuns in the world.
Five years later, he gave all he had to join the congregation de the Sisters of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Des Plaines, Illinois.
The Carmelite nuns are an austere, cloistered order who live largely in silence.
They do not leave the monastery, except when necessary, such as for a medical visit. The nuns only speak if it is essential, allocating their time for contemplation and prayer.
“She was an unusual type of nun”describes Mark Miller. “He did not sing very well, he often arrived late for his required duties in the convent and threw sticks to play with the dogs, which was not allowed,” he adds.
“I have only seen her twice in the last 33 years since she moved to the convent and when I went to visit I could not hug her or touch her. It was separated by a pair of metal bars,” says the son.
Ann had 28 grandchildren, some of whom she never knew and has more than a dozen great-grandchildren, none of whom she held in her arms.
He slept on a wooden plank covered by a thin mattress in a cell and during the day he wore a brown habit and sandals, a far cry from his previous life full of silk umbrellas, Hermes scarves and Versace shoes.
On his 61st birthday, Ann hosted a party for 800 guests at the Hilton Hotel in San Francisco to say goodbye to your friends and family.
They ate expensive seafood, listened to music with a live orchestra, and Ann is said to have wore a wreath and tied a helium balloon that said “here I am” so people could find her to say goodbye.
She told her guests that she had dedicated her first 30 years of life to herself, the second 30 to her children, and that the last third of her life would be dedicated to God.
The next day she flew to Chicago to live in the monastery as Sister Mary Joseph.
“Our relationship was complicated,” says his son. “She was born in the 1920s and died in the 1920s of the next century. (She was) Ann Russell Miller, the Sister Mary Joseph of Trinity OCD.”
“Say hi to dad for me.”
Remember that you can receive notifications from BBC News Mundo. Download the new version of our app and activate them so you don’t miss out on our best content.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.