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SISTER MIRIAM (M. VERONE) SAUMWEBER, SSND We shall sing to stringed instruments in the house of the Lord all the days of our life.” Isaiah 38:20
After months of declining health, our beloved Sister Miriam (M. Verone) Saumweber, 95, died peacefully at 9:25 a.m. on September 13, 2020, in Notre Dame Health Care, Our Lady of Good Counsel, Mankato, Minnesota. Sister Miriam had celebrated her 75th Jubilee as a School Sister of Notre Dame this past summer.
The Funeral Liturgy for Sister Miriam will be held Tuesday, September 22, 2020, at 10:30 a.m., followed by the burial of her cremains in the Good Counsel Cemetery. Only family members will be able to attend the Liturgy. A live-streamed Prayer of Remembrance will be held Monday afternoon. We extend our sympathy to Sister Miriam’s sister, Sister Vianney Saumweber, SSND, her nephew, Jim, and his family, her friends, colleagues and former students, and her sisters in community, the School Sisters of Notre Dame and SSND Associates. She was preceded in death by her parents, Valentine and Marie (Griesgraber) Saumweber, two SSND sisters, Verna and Valine, and four brothers, Gervaise, Jerome, Gene and Clem.
The second last of eight children, Sister Miriam was born in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota. Soon after she was born, her mother brought her to Mary’s altar in Sacred Heart Church and offered her to Mary. Miriam was the third of four daughters and all were named in honor of Mary. Miriam wrote, “I still rejoice over the name that my mother chose for me – Miriam Loretta Rose – at my baptism.” When Miriam was six months old, the family moved to a larger house, just a block away, across from Sacred Heart Church. As she grew up, she formed a tight bond with her older sisters Marie and Dolores, and her younger sister, Marilyn. Her brothers Gene and Clem were about ten years older than the girls, and Gervaise and Jerome had died as very young children before the girls were born. In 1930, Miriam joined her older siblings as students at Sacred Heart School. She wrote, “These were years of enlightenment, discovery and searching. Having learned to read in Sister Bathildis’ [Gerner] classroom, I advanced to Candidate Marie Eicher and another Marie [Mousel]; then on to Sisters Corinne [Lawrie], Leonida [Gores], Laurentia [Thury], Innocent [Zeien], and Petronilla [Turska], Grades 1-8. I loved sewing class every Friday from Sister Genevieve [Birsner] – in fact, I became determined to become an SSND so I could be a ‘sewing’ sister. I did become an SSND, but I taught everything BUT sewing.” In those years, Sacred Heart had a two-year commercial program and Miriam attended ninth grade in this program. When her class returned for tenth grade, they learned that the commercial school was closing because the space was needed for an influx of kindergarten students. While many in her class scrambled to find another school, Miriam knew what she would do – attend Good Counsel Academy in Mankato (where she was planning to go for grades eleven and twelve). Miriam’s two older sisters had attended the Academy and then entered the SSND candidature. Dolores (Sister Valine) was received into the novitiate in 1942, the summer of Miriam’s gradation. Witnessing her sister’s great joy on this occasion convinced Miriam that she, too, should become a School Sister of Notre Dame. She entered the SSND candidature in August, and later wrote, “The Lord had something in store for me which proved to be a surprise for everyone.” Ten days after her entrance she was asked to go to St. Andrew School in St. Paul to teach first grade for a sister who had emergency surgery. Sister Miriam recounted, “There was at least one consolation – I had a companion candidate – Dorothy Olinger. Since she was a senior candidate, she knew enough about the rules to teach them to me, thereby taking the role of my private Candidate director.” Miriam finished the year at St. Andrew and then returned to the candidature. As a second-year candidate, she took the college classes that she would have taken the previous year. On July 21, 1944, she was received into the novitiate and given the name Sister Mary Verone. (She later returned to her baptismal name.) Following profession in 1945, she was sent to SS. Peter & Paul, Loretto, to teach grades 1, 2 and 3. However, shortly after the school year began, her superior noticed that something was physically wrong and it was determined that Sister Verone had an advanced toxic goiter that was poisoning her system. After surgery and recuperation, she resumed teaching at St. Matthew School in St. Paul in January. She then studied at Diocesan Teachers College for one year before returning to the classroom. She taught for one and one-half years at Holy Childhood, St. Paul, and then began some years of substitute teaching at Twin Cities schools. In 1954, she began her high school ministry, teaching primarily biology at Good Counsel Academy and Loyola, Mankato; St. Anthony, Lismore; and Trinity in Dickinson, North Dakota. During her years of teaching she earned a BA in English, education and biology from St. Catherine’s, St. Paul, and MA degrees in education and biology from St. Thomas, St. Paul, and St. Mary’s, Winona, respectively. It was while she was teaching at Loyola that she had a life-changing event. On October 16, 1968, while traveling to Marshall, Minnesota to give a talk on evolution to religious education students, she was severely injured in an automobile accident when the driver lost control on a curve. X-rays revealed one badly crushed vertebra and other broken vertebrae. The result was five months lying flat in a specialized hospital bed. She walked again for the first time on Easter Sunday, 1969. Her recovery was slow, but she attempted to return to full-time teaching the following fall. By Christmas, she knew that she could not continue and finished the year on a part-time basis. From 1970 through 1976, she tried a variety of ministries, including a return to teaching at St. Isidore, Litomysl, and Notre Dame High School, Cresco, Iowa. In 1976, Sister Miriam felt called to a new ministry. She studied art at the College of St. Benedict and art therapy at the College of St. Teresa. She had been interested in art since childhood and found that this field suited her abilities. Two years later, she began teaching art therapy to all ages, and especially to those with special needs. She truly believed in the philosophy of art therapy – that art, as therapy, is a healing experience, which mends where development processes have broken down. One of the schools where she practiced art therapy was Laura Baker School in Northfield, a school and residence for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. An evaluator there wrote, “Sister Miriam’s strengths in art therapy include her calm and quiet approach to her therapy sessions and her deep commitment to helping each client develop as much as possible. She believes that every person has capabilities and she effectively uses art therapy to prove this.” In addition to Laura Baker School, Sister Miriam shared her expertise in art therapy with students at St. Mary’s Special School, St. Louis; Trevilla of Robbinsdale in Minnesota; St. Vincent’s Residential School, Freeport, Illinois; Read Mental Health Center, Chicago; St. Vincent Orphanage, Philadelphia; and St. Matthew School, St. Paul. With her art therapy background, in 1993, Sister Miriam worked to fulfill a 15-year-old dream – “to set up an arts program for children in schools, especially where the arts have been neglected, and hopefully on the East Side of St. Paul where I grew up. God’s providence has guided the process in every detail.” In 1994, she set up a pilot program in St. Paul, organizing a group of artists who had the same goal of reaching children through the arts. The program, “Expressive Arts for Children,” was initially funded by the State Government and eventually became incorporated. It employed 40 artists and offered music, dance, creative movement, visual arts, theater arts, poetry, storytelling and puppetry. She continued with the program until 2000. Throughout her active ministry, Sister Miriam possessed a wide interest in life. She participated in many types of workshops; she painted and sketched; she created with clay; she applied for a patent for a crayon printmaker in 1992; she ushered at the Ordway Theater in St. Paul; she earned county awards for conservation projects, she received commendations for her volunteer work, and she shared her love of art with children, and with sisters, once she moved to Good Counsel in 2002. Sister Miriam was also the family genealogist, collecting information for a family history. She maintained close ties with her nephew and his family. And she looked on all that happened in her life as God’s will. For over 50 years, Sister Miriam lived with back pain that may have slowed her down but did not stop her from fully engaging in life. May she now fully experience her funeral liturgy theme, singing to the Lord with stringed instruments, for all eternity – with full, pain-free movement!
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