Ann Russell Miller, the celeb turned monk, dies aged 92

(RNA) – Ann Russell Miller was not a woman of moderation.

Miller, a San Francisco celebrity, spent her early adult years running benefit galas, vacationing yachts along the Mediterranean, and putting together a designer footwear line that, as her son told the San Francisco Chronicle, Imelda Marcos, “compares looked pathetic “.

According to the Chronicle, she counted Nancy Reagan, comedian Phyllis Diller and Marie Gallo from the well-known winemaking family among her friends.

But more than 30 years ago, Miller took a vow of silence and poverty at a Carmelite convent in Des Plaines, Illinois, to become Sister Mary Joseph.

Some wondered how long she would survive in an environment where sacred song was more common than language, but Miller – a mother of 10 and grandmother of 28 – dedicated the last long chapter of her life, from 1989 to 2021, to the monastery. There she died on Saturday (June 5) after a series of strokes at the age of 92.

The monastery did not respond to a request for comment, except that it was in the middle of organizing the funeral service for Wednesday.

However, thousands of people found out about Miller through a viral thread of tweets her son Mark Miller sent out in her honor on Sunday.

“She was an unusual nun,” tweeted Miller. “She didn’t sing very well. She was often late for her duties in the monastery. She threw sticks for the community dogs, which was not allowed. “

She entered the monastery in Des Plaines, Illinois: home of the first McDonald’s. She preferred Dairy Queen. So she’s been hanging around there for 33 years. Make rosary beads out of flower petals and sleep in your own cell.

– Mark R. Miller (@ 4T9NER) June 6, 2021

Mark Miller said he had only seen his mother twice in the past 33 years, and even on those occasions they separated two metal grilles.

In her previous life she smoked, drank and played cards. “She had a million and a boyfriend,” her son wrote, adding that his own relationship with his mother was complicated.

For Donna Casey, Miller’s eldest daughter, her mother’s decision to join the convent made sense. “I think it was a good choice for her because temperance isn’t my mother’s middle name,” Casey told the Religion News Service. “Everything was black or white – your church, your parents, you everything.

“Unfortunately, most of their children live in a kind of gray area. She would have been unhappy here if she had tried to control everyone and do everything, “added Casey, making it clear that she wasn’t speaking for her entire family, only when she saw her mother. “She decided to get rid of this fear in a way.”

An undated photo of Richard Kendall Miller and Ann Russell Miller. Photo courtesy Mark Miller

Miller was born as Mary Ann Russell. Her father was the chairman of the Southern Pacific Railroad. At the age of 20, she married Richard Kendall Miller, whose father, according to news reports, started what became Pacific Gas and Electric, or PG&E.

She attended the exclusive Spence School in New York before going to Mills College, according to an obituary. “A tireless fundraiser and do-gooder,” as the Chronicle describes it, Miller founded the Northern California chapter of Achievement Rewards for College Scientists and served on more than 20 committees.

Five years after the death of her husband, Miller throws herself a well-documented farewell party with 800 guests before she begins a life of “strict enclosure” and “contemplative prayer”.

According to a 2005 chronicle story, Miller turned to her guests and said, “The first two-thirds of my life were dedicated to the world. … I will dedicate the last third to my soul. ”

Miller came from a religious Catholic household and her mother converted to Catholicism when she married Miller’s father. When Miller and her husband Richard married, Casey said, “They started their Catholic lives together”.

Sister Mary Joseph behind a partition during a visit at St. Joseph's Carmelite Convent in Des Plaines, Illinois.  Photo courtesy Mark Miller

Sister Mary Joseph on a visit behind a partition. Photo courtesy Mark Miller

They were mostly Sunday Catholics and celebrated the high holidays, but Miller’s faith deepened when Casey’s son fell ill and needed an operation.

“My mother made an arrangement with someone that if they survived the operation, she would go to mass every day for a year,” Casey said.

“I think that’s where your daily visit to the fair began. She loved to travel and often took the priest with her so she wouldn’t miss mass, ”Casey said.

Casey remembered attending an Irish Catholic school in San Francisco. Half of her maternity allowance had to go to church.

“They made sure we all went (to church). Today I would say that probably 40% of us practice Catholics. You may have pushed too hard, ”Casey said.

Miller’s strict interpretation of Catholicism was controversial in the family. Casey said her mother would not recognize her children’s families because they did not get married within the church.

“She had grandchildren from some of those marriages, so I don’t get it,” Casey said.

Miller’s decision to join the monastery caused an uproar among her friends, Casey said.

“They hadn’t looked at their own spirituality or their own practice … that your life here is a path to heaven,” Casey said. “I think many of them were put off by their belief that their beliefs were important and that they didn’t want to look at their own lives in that context.

“If nothing else, my mother was a real Scorpio,” Casey said. “Boy, boy – black and white, my type or the type of Autobahn.”

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