Sister Cecilia Ann Miller
Be still and know that I am God – Psalm 46:10
Sister Cecilia Ann Miller claimed that the foundation of her spiritual life was formed early on by beloved council member of yore, Sister Rose Dolores. According to Sister Cecilia Ann, Sister Rose Dolores emphasized, even to her youngest charges, that God dwelt in their midst, within them and within all creation, that God was not an entity removed from them and from life, but a force, an energy within life. Indeed, we abide in God’s spirit and God’s spirit abides in us. This spirit will guide us if we are but still and attentive. There is no need to be afraid, said Sister Rosemary Schmalz in her commentary for Sister Cecilia Ann Miller who died May 31, 2013 at age 91.
Mary Ann Miller was born on Jan. 22, 1922, in Jasper, Ind., to Clara Gosman Miller and Linus Miller. She was the older of two daughters. Her sister Margaret (or Margie, as all called her), preceded her in death.
After attending elementary school at St. Joseph in Jasper, Mary Ann came to the Sisters of Providence Juniorate for high school and entered the community Jan. 6, 1940. She was always proud to be in one of the two groups that entered during the SP’s centennial year.Because her musical talent was apparent, she was quickly channeled into becoming a music teacher and received the name Cecilia Ann to reflect that profession.
Sister Cecilia Ann’s musical talent came to her in her genes. According to her, her mother was a self-taught pianist who often played at the Gosman family hotel in Jasper. Her father, an accomplished wood worker, was also a violinist and sometimes played there with her mother. Cecilia Ann’s first mission was at St. Francis Xavier in Wilmette, Ill., where she taught music for six years. She then was assigned to Corpus Christi School in Oklahoma City where she also remained for six years.
Having earned her bachelor’s degree in music from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, she studied for a masters’ degree in piano from Rosary College. At that time, Rosary College had a campus in Florence, Italy. And so accompanied by Sister Immaculee Krafthefer and Sister Alexa Suelzer, she spent the 1956-57 academic year in Florence. If I had to point to major milestones in Celie’s life, this year in Europe amid all the artistic beauty would certainly be the first one of them. In her winter box, she still had many postcards of the sites in Europe that she was privileged to see during that year, Sister Rosemary continued.
Having completed this degree, Sister Cecilia Ann was assigned to teach at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC). She had two stints teaching at SMWC, from 1957- 1968 and from 1971-1977. In between she was music coordinator for the SP Congregation. During her second assignment at SMWC, she was asked to teach a course in music methods for special education majors. Knowing very little about the field, Sister Cecilia Ann took a few workshops and then volunteered the summer before first teaching the class at Happiness Bag camp, a camp in the Terre Haute, Ind., area for children with special needs. She also took on a few special needs students for private lessons. Thus began what I consider the second point of influence in her life, a love for people with special needs.
When her mother became more and more frail, Celie asked to leave the College and returned to her native Jasper, Ind., to be closer to her mother. She taught at Precious Blood School there from 1977-1988 and continued to give private lessons to a number of special needs children. After her mother’s death, she left Jasper and moved to Louisville, Ky., where she taught five years at Ursuline Pitt School, a school for special children. While there, then-council-member Sister Marie McCarthy, asked Sister Cecilia Ann to go to Taiwan to teach music at St. Theresa Opportunity Center, a ministry the Sisters of Providence helped run there. She was 73 at the time and off she went to Taiwan, staying for five years until 2000.
Charity Yang, who lived and worked at St. Theresa Opportunity Center when Celie was there, shared the following:
“Sister was always full of life and did everything she could to dedicate herself wholly. Oftentimes I forgot how old she was when she fast-walked with me chatting non-stop. I remember how creative and dedicated she was as she worked long hours to make special musical instruments to meet the needs of our students. Sister’s love for them was so visible. She gave the best she had. Many children had the chance to enjoy the healing power of music because of her tremendous patience and marvelous methods in teaching music.”
I would say that the third point of influence in Celie’s life was being in Asia. Prior to going to Taiwan, Sister Cecilia Ann had been practicing contemplative prayer regularly for about ten years and had even spent six months in a hermitage in Wisconsin, during the winter, no less, becoming more deeply committed to this practice. It was in Taiwan that she met Sister Agnes Lee who helped her move even more deeply into the contemplative life. Here is another quote from Charity’s e-mail:
“Besides music, frequent contact with God helped Sister conquer the cultural and language challenges in Taiwan. She practiced meditation three times a day. Many times, she shared her experiences in meditation with me and enriched my prayer life. From her, I learned more about Eastern spirituality.”
When Sister Cecilia Ann was 81, Sister Agnes asked her to come to the Philippines to teach violin and organ to novices in her congregation. Of course, she went and stayed for six months. A year later, she returned to Taiwan for another six months.
Sister Cecilia Ann truly loved Asia. I planned a small dinner party for her 90th birthday, deciding to do my version of a Chinese meal. When I asked if she had any preferences, she said – yes, she had two. She wanted me to serve wine and she wanted to use chop sticks, Sister Rosemary continued.
Sister Cecilia Ann rarely missed an opportunity to broaden her horizons. Ideas were always percolating in her active mind. And she was totally committed to acting on these ideas. On returning to the US, she taught music to the children in Woods Day Care at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and began offering music experiences to the sisters in the SP’s Providence Health Care. Even after moving to health care herself, she continued her work with the sisters there. Her bedroom was full of audio and video tapes and CDs that she could not part with. These had potential use for her ministry, and she was not going to let the sisters be shortchanged.
Sister Cecilia Ann never lost her love of music. She was part of the tone chime choir just this past Christmas and only about 10 days before she died she enjoyed a concert in the church.
When one of our sisters was approaching her 100th birthday, I asked Sister Cecilia Ann if she would like to live to be 100. I think she was 88 at the time. Her answer surprised me. “Well, I wouldn’t mind,” she said. “I’d like to see how things unfold.”
Well, she didn’t make it to 100, but our faith tells us that she continues on her unfolding journey into God. We thank you, Sister Cecilia Ann, for being our friend and mentor and for sharing your vibrant life with us, Sister Rosemary concluded.
A funeral Mass for Sister Cecilia Ann was held June 4, 2013 in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
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