Pope Francis approves beatification of Saint Mary’s alumnus

November 9, 2018


Pope Francis has recognized the martyrdom of Saint Mary’s University alumnus Brother James Miller, FSC. The Vatican announced Thursday that Pope Francis approved a decree recognizing Miller died as a martyr on Feb. 13, 1982, in Huehuetenango, Guatemala.

While repairing a wall at the school where he worked, Miller (also known as Brother Santiago) was approached by three men, who shot and killed him. He died instantly. It is suspected that Miller was killed because he and the other brothers fought to keep their young students from being forced into the military.

A native of Stevens Point, Wis., Brother James received his undergraduate degree in 1966 and his graduate degree in 1974 from Saint Mary’s. He taught at Cretin High School, now Cretin-Derham Hall, in St. Paul, Minn., for several years before going to Nicaragua and eventually Guatemala, where he taught job and leadership skills to the young indigenous people.

Miller will be the first De La Salle Christian Brother from the United States to be beatified. The cause of beatification was undertaken by the Diocese of Huehuetenango, Guatemala, and received the Decree of Validity in Rome in 2010 when Miller was designated a Servant of God and a martyr for the faith.

The recognition of the martyrdom of Miller clears the way for his beatification; the date and location of the beatification ceremony were not immediately announced. As a martyr, Miller must have one miracle attributed to him posthumously to reach the next and final step toward official sainthood, which is canonization.

Father James P. Burns, IVD, Ph.D., president of Saint Mary’s said: “Though we continue to mourn his death, we honor his life and celebrate his mission to improve the lives of so many. The Saint Mary’s community and the De La Salle Christian Brother community unite in celebration as one of our very own will be recognized in this way for his life of devoted and inspirational service, especially to the poor and marginalized.”

Miller is the second American slain in Guatemala to move a step closer to possible sainthood in recent years. The Rev. Stanley Rother, who was gunned down during the Guatemalan conflict in 1981, was beatified as a martyr in his native Oklahoma last year.

No one was ever arrested in Miller’s death. Miller’s fellow brothers reported receiving warnings that Guatemala’s armed forces intelligence unit, the G-2 death squad, was looking for them.

A U.N. truth commission determined that some 245,000 people were killed or disappeared during Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war, which pitted right-wing, U.S.-backed governments against leftist guerrillas and indigenous peoples. The vast majority of the killings were attributed to the army or to pro-government paramilitary groups.

Miller was one of more than a dozen people whose saint-making causes advanced during an audience Wednesday between Francis and the head of the Vatican’s saint-making office. During the audience, Francis took the unusual step of decreeing that Michael Giedroyca, a lay member of the Order of St. Augustine during the 15th century, could be beatified without being declared a martyr or having a miracle attributed to his intercession.

Giedroyc was born in Lithuania with a condition that resulted in short stature. He spent much of his life in Krakow, Poland, where he died in 1485.

Francis has granted a handful of such “equivalent” decrees for well-known and revered saintly figures, including Pope John XXIII, whom Francis declared a saint alongside St. John Paul II in 2014.

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