NEWARK, N.J. – A New Jersey nun credited with curing a boy's eye disease moved a step closer to sainthood Saturday in what church officials said was the first beatification Mass held in the United States.
A beatification Mass for Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, who died in 1927, was led by Cardinal Angelo Amato at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark. Beatification is the third in a four-step process toward sainthood.
Demjanovich is credited with curing a boy's macular degeneration in the 1960s, the Archdiocese of Newark says. The boy, Michael Mencer, was given a lock of the nun's hair and prayed to her. The effects of the eye disease soon began to fade, Roman Catholic Church officials say.
"Within a period of six weeks, it was totally reversed," said Sister Mary Canavan of the Sisters of Charity, the order to which Demjanovich belonged.
Mencer, who is now 58 and lives in Nebraska, and members of the Demjanovich family were among the hundreds of clergy members, nuns and worshippers who attended the beatification Mass. He said was happy that Demjanovich was getting the recognition she deserves.
"I was dug in thinking, this was going to take 100 years," he said.
Mencer also reflected on the moment when he first realized his eyesight was improving.
"I was walking and I looked up, and I thought I was looking at the sun because at first it was just the light," he said. "Then I was able to focus on the sphere and I thought `oh, that's the sun' but it didn't hurt, I didn't tear up or anything and then I looked back down and there it was, the hair."
Mencer said he returned home and handed the hair to his mother.
"And then then I just went out to play," he said. "I actually ran, it didn't dawn on me then. I just ran to my friend's house."
Mencer's younger brother, Mark, said he was thrilled to attend the Mass.
"This is something that's been in the making for decades," Mark Mencer said. "My mother has been in contact with Rome for a long time. I'm glad to see such great success come from this."
Mark Mencer, who now lives in Las Vegas, said he was about 4 years old when his brother's vision began to improve.
"I heard the stories including the one of him walking into a tree because he couldn't see so well," he said. "It's amazing because he had no medical intervention. It's a true miracle of God."
The beatification comes less than a year after Pope Francis certified Mencer's improved eyesight as a miracle, though church officials started the process in 1945 when the bishop of Paterson began studying Demjanovich's life and virtues, according to the Sisters of Charity.
Demjanovich was born in Bayonne, southeast of Newark, and was a Sister of Charity for only two years before succumbing to complications of appendicitis at age 26. During her short time in the order, she was best known for her virtue and her mature writings. At the time, students also noted that whatever was said in confidence to her was not spoken to anyone else, Sister Diane Collesano said.
"The sisters saw in her that a person who had insights far beyond the average 20-some-year-old person," Collesano said.
Beatification requires evidence of one miracle that happened after the candidate has died and as a result of a specific plea to the candidate. Sainthood requires a second miracle, though candidates deemed martyrs need only one for canonization.
Traditionally, beatifications have taken place in Rome. But several years ago, Pope Benedict XVI said beatifications could take place in the country and diocese from which the blessed person came.