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Another American recognized as a martyr

BY:   OSV Newsweekly

Christian Brother James Miller has been declared a martyr of the Catholic faith, officially recognized as such by Pope Francis on Nov. 7. The Wisconsin native becomes just the second native-born American so designated, after Blessed Stanley Rother of Oklahoma (see sidebar), who was beatified in 2017. Brother Miller was shot by three unidentified men in Guatemala on Feb. 13, 1982.

The papal decree recognizing Brother Miller’s martyrdom completes an investigatory phase leading toward canonization that began in 2009. His beatification — which is slated for 2019 and which will be the fourth to be held on American soil — will make Brother Miller the first lay male religious from America to be declared blessed.

Brother Miller’s death came almost seven months after Father Rother was killed in the same country.

Born in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, in 1944, Brother Miller entered the Institute of the Brothers of Christian Schools, otherwise known as the Christian Brothers, upon completing high school. He professed perpetual vows in 1960.

Initially assigned to high school ministry in Minnesota, Brother Miller coached football in addition to teaching Spanish, English and religion. He also directed maintenance for the facility, earning him the moniker “Brother Fix-It.”

Subsequently, Brother Miller spent time in Nicaragua, where he taught and directed a vocational school, which doubled in size under his leadership and included construction of nearly a dozen schools on the outskirts. The Sandanista revolution caused great difficulty for all in Nicaragua, a time during which Brother Miller’s life was endangered. He was reassigned back to Minnesota, but he longed to return to Central America.

In early 1981, Brother Miller was assigned to Guatemala. There he taught in the western Guatemalan city of Huehuetenango. He was attentive to the suffering and oppression of the natives there, and focused on providing job-skills training among their youth. He would take on the most ordinary of tasks willingly, from sweeping floors to doing dishes. Or he would utilize his conversation skills to attempt negotiations with politicians and he exhibited community leadership in organizing a fire department.

What is a Martyr?

Men and women of all times and places are raised up by God’s grace to bear witness to the Gospel. In all the followers of Christ is found a cost associated with discipleship. And attached to it is the reward the Lord promises: “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16: 25).


Surviving writings from Brother Miller show he was keenly aware of the plight of the poor and underprivileged Guatemalan natives he served. “Many selfish, blind and hardened hearts must be converted to the love of Christ before a lasting solution can be found. Armed force will not solve the problems; only dialogue and mutual understanding can be viable solutions,” he wrote.

It is clear Brother Miller’s love for the poor and his desire to serve them in the name of Christ is what brought about his death. He was fully aware that his ministry could result in death. “I am personally weary of violence, but I continue to feel a strong commitment to the suffering poor of Central America. ‘God’s ways are not man’s ways,’ says the Bible. God knows why he continued to call me to Guatemala, when some friends and relatives encouraged me to pull out for my own comfort and safety,” he wrote.

Brother Miller was shot and killed by three hooded men while he was atop a ladder repairing a wall as students of De La Salle Indian School in Huehuetenango were looking on. He was 37 years old at the time of his death. Brother Miller’s assassins were never identified, and the investigation was closed after the government concluded “subversive criminal elements” were to blame. And after funeral ceremonies in Guatemala and Minnesota, Brother Miller was buried in his native Wisconsin, in the Diocese of La Crosse.

This article comes to you from OSV Newsweekly (Our Sunday Visitor) courtesy of your parish or diocese.


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