Wisconsin man named martyr

Earlier this month, Pope Francis named a Wisconsin man a martyr for his death in service to the church and the poor.

Brother James Miller was born in Stevens Point, Wisc., in 1944, and became a brother at the age of 15. He was assassinated in 1982 while on a mission in Huehuetenango, Guatemala under circumstances that still aren't clear.

The Diocese of Huehuetenango filed a cause for beatification in 2009, but the process was stalled by lack of information. The three hooded shooters were never identified and no one claimed responsibility.

The assassination occurred during a period of civil unrest in Central America, and a colleague at the school wrote that in the tense days before Miller's death members of a death squad were looking for a "sub-director" at the school, a title held by Miller and several others.

Brother Frank Carr, who went to school with Miller, speculates that Miller's dedication to the poor set him in the sights of the ruling, wealthy elite.

"I think he kind of maneuvered his way around to get more money for schools, but in the meantime, there was a lot of tension, a lot of killings," he said.

On November 8, 2018, Pope Francis declared Miller a martyr, thus paving the way for beatification.

Carr said Miller's passion for mission work was evident even at a young age.

"He kept asking the superiors, 'can I go? Can I go?'" he said.

Between mission trips, Miller taught English and Spanish at Cretin High School in St. Paul. In January 1981, he was sent to Guatemala to teach and was assassinated a year later.

Carr added that with the beatification approved, there is a small possibility that Miller would become a saint.

"We were college kids, we didn't think like that ... not very often do our minds go to, 'oh, he's going to become a saint,'" he said.

In order for beatified individuals to become saints, a miracle must be attributed to them posthumously.

"So I guess now we're just praying hard for something to happen," Carr said.

Before you go...

MPR News is dedicated to bringing you clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives when we need it most. We rely on your help to do this. Your donation has the power to keep MPR News strong and accessible to all during this crisis and beyond.