One of Rosie Miller’s favorite memories is of being invited in for cookies after helping to plant flowers for the Sisters of St. Francis. The feeling inside the convent amidst the nuns in their habits was welcoming and loving, and she soaked it all in. It was so spiritually energizing—just the kind of place that would appeal to a little girl from a large family that scrapped for a living in the Indiana countryside.
It was the same feeling that sustained her years later when she lay in a coma in an Indiana hospital, near death from toxic shock syndrome. Paralyzed by the bacteria that seeped through her system, she could neither move nor talk. But she felt the pain as her organs began slowly shutting down, and she heard everything the doctor said.
“I heard him say that if I lived through the night, I would never walk or talk again,” Miller says. “I thought he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
At one point she realized it was up to her to choose to live or to let go. But her decision to live depended on her ability to absorb the love and energy of everyone in the room—doctors, nurses, brothers and sisters—just as she’d done as a little girl in the convent. The energy she’d felt with the nuns sustained her then, and it would sustain her now.
“I had to go to the deepest part of my being and pull up my reserves,” she says. “I realized if I’m going to live, it’s up to everyone else because I was living on everyone else’s energy.”
Surviving her bout with death fed the spirituality that had been developing within her since she was a young girl growing up in Connersville, Ind., where she was immersed in the culture of the Catholic Church. At the Catholic elementary school, she was exposed to the nuns and to books about the saints, which were a respite from the challenges her family faced—growing and canning their own food, sewing their own clothes. Her father’s factory job was not enough for the family of seven children, and they relied on the sisters for education and support. One way they gave back was by planting flowers from the family’s greenhouse.
So it was no surprise that she entered the convent’s boarding school at Oldenburg, Ind., when she was in the seventh grade, fully intending to become a nun. “As soon as I rounded the corner and saw the spires, I thought, this is home,” she says. “In many ways, I was raised by the nuns.”
Miller formally entered the order in 1967 at Oldenburg, attended college in Indianapolis for degrees in education and theology, and took final vows in 1975. She taught elementary school before going into pastoral work while earning her master’s in religious studies in 1983 at Mundelein College in Chicago, where she also completed classes in pastoral studies at Loyola University.
Miller was working as a pastoral associate in a small town in Kentucky when she became ill in 1985. In the aftermath of her near-death experience, she decided to follow the example of St. Francis. He had embraced the lepers living outside Assisi, and so she would work with people infected with the AIDS virus. In 1989, she came to Cincinnati to work for Aids Volunteers of Cincinnati, known as AVOC, and was hired by Xavier to teach theology on a part-time basis.
Her one year became 24 years as a full-time faculty member teaching the basics of theology and the value of spirituality. Now a certified spiritual director, she is retiring and is looking forward to devoting more time to spiritual healing, especially with veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She’s supported Xavier’s newly opened Center for Veterans Affairs and helped put together a program that takes student veterans on spiritual pilgrimages in Assisi.
“One needs to work as long as one can, so it’s wise for me to re-shift to another ministry,” she says. “My gift is in the area of healing, and I may do retraining in the healing ministries.”