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Miriam Spencer, CSJP (1925 - 2017)

Sister Miriam Spencer, a passionate advocate for peace and justice who willingly spent time in prison to protest the training of Latin American soldiers in Fort Benning, Georgia’s School of the Americas, died November 22, 2017 in Seattle.

Sister Miriam Spencer was born in Canyon, British Columbia, in 1925. A very bright student, she won a scholarship to study in a Canadian university where she completed a year before a retreat convinced her that she was called to religious life. She chose the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace (CSJP) in part because her aunt, Sister Margaret Wood, was part of the community. Miriam entered the CSJP community in 1945 and, unlike most Sisters at that time, was given her baptismal name, Miriam, as her name in religion.

Sister Miriam was missioned as a teacher. She received a B.A. in Education from Western Washington University in 1949 and began teach at St. Margaret’s, Seattle. She taught math at Blanchet High School, Seattle, at St. Joseph School in Nelson, B.C., at St. Joseph School in Wenatchee and at the Aquinas Academy in Tacoma. During her years of teaching she also earned a Master of Science degree at Notre Dame.

After 1971, Sister Miriam served as Secretary at St. Therese School, Seattle, then as Treasurer for the Western Province of the CSJPs and as bookkeeper for parishes in Palo Alto and Issaquah. In 1993 she moved to the Family Tree Apartments, an affordable housing complex developed by Mercy Housing Northwest, and taught math and computer skills to the children of residents while she was living there.

Sister Miriam engaged with issues of justice for many years before she went to prison. In the 1980’s she spent a month working with Mitch Snyder’s community for the homeless in Washington, D.C., joined a Central American peace group and went to Nicaragua with Witness for Peace. Her passion for peace through justice led her to protest against Trident submarines, nuclear testing, and the Gulf War. She spent a weekend in jail in the mid-1980s for protests against U.S. foreign policy in Nicaragua.

Sister Miriam’s participation in protests against the School of the Americas led to a “ban and bar” order, but in spite of that she participated as a peacekeeper and was sentenced to six months in federal prison. In her trial statement she said, “My summons was for a trial of the United States vs. Miriam Katherine Spencer. David facing Goliath was not so threatened. David was able to overcome by his faith in God. I believe we have the same hope. . . God is surely on the side of justice for the powerless.

In spite of health issues that could have saved her from serving the prison term, Sister Miriam willingly accepted her sentence and served her time in the federal prison at Pekin, Illinois in 2001-2002. While there she taught other prisoners math and computer skills and learned from them about their justice issues.

Sister Miriam returned from prison to the CSJP community at St. Mary-on-the-Lake and remained active in justice work for many years.

Miriam Spencer, CSJP (1925 - 2017)

"We must be signs of hope and healing in the midst of the cultural reality in which we find ourselves."

Ann Rutan, CSJP