day before Halloween 1964, but before
they left, Michael’s teacher, Sister Mary
Augustine—a Sister of Charity who
happened to be director of the Sister
Miriam Teresa prayer league in the
parish—gave him a memento with Sister
Miriam Teresa’s hair to take home to his
mother. “I remember a weird look on her
face,” Mencer says about his mother’s
reaction. “She said I looked straight at
her, which I hadn’t done because usually
I had to tilt my head. I just looked at her
and said, ‘Ma, can I go out to play?’ and
she said I just took off.”
Mencer started Braille lessons in
the den of their new home, in antici-
pation of impending blindness, but
when he went to the renowned Wills
Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, doctors
there found his vision was normal.
None could explain what had happened. The Braille lessons stopped.
Mencer began to ride a bike with
ease. His mother believed he was
cured through the intercession of Sis-
ter Miriam Teresa, but she kept that
belief to herself until 1971, when she
read a story in a church newspaper
about the sainthood cause. Sensing a
connection, she wrote a letter to the
prayer league in Convent Station.
The letter was filed for further
investigation, only to fall between two
folders, where it remained unseen and
forgotten—for 27 years.
WHEN BARBARA MENCER’S letter was
unearthed in 1998, Sister Marian Jose
Smith—the small but formidable chemistry professor at the College of Saint
Elizabeth who was serving as vice-pos-tulator of the cause—enlisted a former
student to investigate: Dr. Mary Mazzarella, a retired Nutley pediatrician.
They found Michael Mencer working
as an electronics technician in Denver,
his eyes healthy enough that he didn’t
even need reading glasses. They found
his mother in South Jersey, still holding
on to several documents that became
important evidence in the case: letters
from the doctor and correspondence
with the Commission for the Blind.
“In [the doctor’s] own handwrit-
ing we see he dilated the pupils and he
sees black pigment in the area of the
macula,” Mazzarella says, describing
the doctor’s exam notes from 1964. The
black pigment in the macula—the tissue
in the retina that controls the central
vision—was a symptom of macular
degeneration, and the reason Michael
couldn’t see straight ahead.
Four American ophthalmologists
examined Michael as an adult, and 14
more—including nine in Rome—reviewed
the case. At the Vatican, Sister Miriam
Teresa was number 268 in line for review
for sainthood by the Congregation for the
Causes of Saints. With the new findings,
she jumped ahead to number 78.
In May 2012, Pope Benedict XVI
declared Sister Miriam Teresa “
Venerable”—one of just 16 Americans currently so designated. She still needed
“Recognizing and knowing
everyone on campus, that’s
– Jack Toll ’ 16
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