In Memoriam: Fr. Fred Miller

Rev. Frederick L. Miller, a beloved priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on September 28, 2022. He was the Spiritual Director of St. Andrew’s Hall College Seminary and Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University.

Read Fr. Miller’s obituary in full here.

Evening Prayer

Office of the Dead

Rev. Frederick L. Miller

October 3, 2022

Our Lady of Sorrows Church, South Orange, NJ

by Rev. Brian X. Needles

Fr. Miller received his doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum). In contemplating the life of Fr. Miller, the following statement from St. Thomas seems especially appropriate: “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship. Friendship is the source of the greatest pleasure, and without friends even the most agreeable pursuits become tedious.”

Fr. Miller collected friends the way some people collect stamps or coins. He prized his friendships, and those friendships brought him the greatest pleasure. I’ve never known anyone who remained in contact with so many friends as Fr. Miller. Most people tend to lose contact with their friends when they are separated by time or distance. That wasn’t the case with Fr. Miller. He prized all of his friendships.

His friends included cardinals, bishops, priests, seminarians, religious, deacons, and lay faithful. I was always amazed at the number and variety of friends that he accumulated. And what a wonderful friend he was. And what a fun friend! Fr. Don Libby of the Diocese of Gaylord, MI sent me a few thoughts that came to him about Fr. Miller which speak to the fun and joy that came from being friends with Fr. Miller. Included are the memories of:

  • Sitting with Fr. Miller by the fire, having a drink, Fr. Miller’s right hand on his chest as he said or thought of something profound and those big eyes of his coming to life as they realized some great truth was being unhidden.
  • Sitting in Fr. Miller’s room, whether at the North American College in Rome, at St. Charles Seminary in PA, at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in MD, or St. Andrew’s College Seminary in NJ, and shivering from the cold because Fr. Miller kept his room as frigid as an icebox.
  • Miller never being too busy to talk — ever!
  • Miller’s ability to prophesy about future events — or engage in priestly gossip, especially about bishops!
  • Miller always being up for an adventure. Fr. Libby took him through avalanche danger in 2020 as they went up to La Salette, Fr. Miller in a wheelchair. He wanted to see everything, even amidst the ice.
  • Miller’s laugh! Actually, he didn’t laugh as much as he snorted!

So many friendships! These friendships came to him in many ways: through parish work, teaching, spiritual direction, serving as a priest mentor, and giving retreats. He gave retreats all over the country, as well as internationally, including India (to Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity) and Sweden (to a cloistered Carmelite community. Some years, he preached as many as 4 or 5 retreats, usually to groups of religious or diocesan priests, but also to the lay faithful.

As much as Fr. Miller derived such great joy from his friendships with all of us, his greatest friendship was with Jesus Christ, to whom he was configured in a profound way in virtue of his priestly ordination. I won’t even attempt to delve into that friendship.

But I do want to mention the friendship that he shared with those men and women who have now reached the glory of Heaven and have been raised to the altar of saints.

Fr. Miller had a wonderful, beautiful, and very natural devotion to the saints. Of course, like all of us, he had some saints to whom he was more devoted to than others: St. Philip Neri, St. Louis de Montfort, St. Joseph, St. Jeanne Jugan, St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. He wrote and preached beautifully about these saints and others. But these saints weren’t simply subjects of his theological reflection; instead, they were his friends.

But there were 3 saints above all that captured his attention and with whom he entered into deep and life-giving friendships. They are St. John Vianney, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and — of course — the Blessed Virgin Mary.

By the way, it’s noteworthy that all of the saints to whom Fr. Miller had a devotion also loved the Blessed Mother and were absolutely devoted to her. If you wanted to be a good friend of Fr. Miller, you had to have a lively devotion to Our Lady.

The Blessed Virgin Mary

Fr. Miller wrote, “Many years ago, I was presenting a talk on Our Lady in Minneapolis/St. Paul. The housekeeper in the rectory was an elderly woman who seemed to be very close to God. I asked her as I was leaving the house, ‘What should I tell the people about the Blessed Virgin?’ She paused for a moment and then said from somewhere deep in her heart: ‘Tell them about how much we owe Mary! Tell them that we owe everything to her.’”

Fr. Miller knew that he owed everything to Our Lady. He wrote, “I can say with complete honesty that I owe everything in my priesthood to the intercession of Mary. In fact, I am convinced that any good I may have accomplished as a priest . . . is entirely her doing. I am even tempted to say, ‘her fault.’”

Fr. Miller spent his priesthood repaying the debt he owed to Mary. And it came so very naturally to him.

Fr. Don Libby wrote: “When Fr. Miller was here one time, he gave a talk on the Immaculate Conception. It was supposed to be about an hour long. I put the wrong notes on the ambo and he winged it. I did not know until afterwards. He did not miss a beat. And he gently told me afterwards they were the wrong notes.”

Fr. Miller knew and loved Our Lady so well that he didn’t need notes to speak about her. One can’t begin to image how many homilies Fr. Miller preached about Mary: her Immaculate Conception, the Annunciation, her Assumption, every aspect of the life of Mary captured his attention and love. Fr. Miller was a manly man because he loved Our Lady.

And he understood how Mary was a conduit of grace to him and every other Christian. The summer before Covid, I accompanied Fr. Miller to Sweden, to a cloistered convent of Carmelite Sisters. The thing that he highlighted most during his talks at the Carmel was the importance of Baptism.

To truly understand Fr. Miller’s spiritual theology, one must understand his appreciation for the Sacrament of Baptism — and Baptism’s connection to the Blessed Mother. He learned this especially from St. Louis de Montfort, but Fr. Miller never simply parroted what someone else said or wrote. He developed it and created new ways of understanding it.

Fr. Miller said that in Baptism, God creates grace in the soul, which is, among other things, a disposition to believe the Word of God, to surrender one’s life to Him and to give Him everything, just as Mary did during her journey through this life. It includes the disposition to find God in the light of faith, but also to trust Him when all that one experiences is darkness.

Fr. Miller explained that just as the Holy Spirit infuses grace in the soul of the person at Baptism, Mary at the same time accepts each new son or daughter as a gift of her Son, somehow sharing with her new sons and daughters her own receptivity to the grace of God and she does so in a unique way, a way suited to the providential plan of God for each one of us. Mary’s receptivity to the Word and to His grace is a gift that the Christian always experiences and yet rarely acknowledges explicitly as a Marian gift. For some, it is a gift never explicitly recognized and acknowledged in this life.

While Fr. Miller is correct in saying that many people would not recognize this gift from Mary, I think anyone who knew Fr. Miller would agree that not only did Fr. Miller recognize and acknowledge the gift, he shared it with great passion and zeal with so many other people.

One can’t even begin to count the number of people, especially seminarians, he led through the Consecration to Mary. At every seminary he worked at, he created or strengthened chapters of the Legion of Mary. And his membership in the Mariological Society allowed him to study and write about various aspects of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Someday, someone should compile all of his Marian talks, homilies, and articles. Within them, I believe there’s a doctoral dissertation waiting to be written.

St. John Vianney

Fr. Miller wrote The Grace of Ars in 2010. I highly recommend it to everyone, especially priests and seminarians. It should be required seminary reading!

Interestingly, earlier in his priesthood, Fr. Miller found St. Philip Neri to be a more relatable saint than St. John Vianney. It’s not that he dismissed Vianney as a priest from a different time and culture, but he didn’t fully appreciate Vianney for who he really was. That began to change in 2004, when he led his first pilgrimage of seminarians to Ars. I myself was part of another group of seminarians that he led to Ars in 2005.

While in Ars, Fr. Miller came into contact with concrete objects in the church in Ars: the pulpit, the saint’s catechetical desk, the shrine dedicated to the BVM, the confessional, and especially the altar. Praying there every day and reflecting on his experience in Ars later, he began to recognize just how relevant and relatable St. John Vianney is to today’s priests.

As he writes in The Grace of Ars, among the graces Fr. Miller received from that retreat were an absolute certainty that the daily celebration of Mass must be the integrating core of priestly life; a new understanding of the relationship between the Eucharist and evangelization, catechesis, liturgical preaching, and the Sacrament of Penance; the awareness that zeal for teaching the Catholic faith and administering the sacraments propels the priest gladly to embrace the fullness of the priesthood, including the gospel counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, which in turn facilitate his service to the people of God; and the intuitive certainty that the personal sanctity of the priest affects the disposition of the people in their reception of the Word of God and the sacraments.

The conferences Fr. Miller gave during those retreats became the basis for his book. He wrote that book to highlight the great gift and grace of the Catholic priesthood. Fr. Miller wrote in his book that, while the character of holy orders is, in essence, the capacity the priest receives in ordination to render the Pascal Mystery effective and fruitful in people’s lives, the sacramental grace of holy orders also means the infusion of pastoral charity.

In other words, in virtue of his ordination, the priest not only becomes a living instrument of Jesus Christ, but also receives a share of the Good Shepherd’s love for his flock. The priest manifests the love of Christ and grows in love and personal holiness precisely by preaching the Word of God, administering the sacraments, and giving pastoral care to God’s people. Fr. Miller did all of those things in an exemplary way and in so doing brought many souls to Christ.

St. John Vianney said, “When you see a priest, think of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . The priest continues the work of redemption on earth. . . . If we really understood the priest on earth, we would die not of fright, but of love. . . . The Priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.”

Fr. Miller had, in virtue of his priesthood, the love of the heart of Jesus.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux

St. Thérèse wasn’t just a saint to Fr. Miller. He said that she had chosen him to be her spiritual brother. And Fr. Miller said more than once that he had his own secret affair of the heart with the Little Flower. Honestly, I don’t think that affair of the heart he had with Thérèse was much of a secret! Fr. Miller preached and wrote about that affair of the heart on many occasions.

He said that Thérèse taught him everything he knew about spiritual theology. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on St. Thérèse and later turned it into a book: The Trial of Faith of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

What was that trial of faith? Well, when she was just 14, she learned about the serial murderer Henri Pranzini, who seemed thoroughly unrepentant. But Thérèse begged God to convert him; she mortified herself for him, she had Masses offered for his salvation. And he converted before his execution, kissing a crucifix 3 times.

Through this episode, Thérèse perceived that her prayers and sacrifices for the conversion of those farthest away from God helped them turn to God in contrition. This way of loving Jesus became the driving motive of Thérèse’s life. It reveals her insight into the role of the Church in the mediation of the grace of salvation. At Carmel, she would offer her life to bring joy to Jesus through the conversion of sinners.

At the end of the nineteenth century in France, things were not good for the Church. Many people had fallen away from the practice of the faith, living openly in sin. Some publicly attacked the Church and her teachings. There was serious doctrinal confusion within the Church and open dissent. Atheism, agnosticism, materialism, and hedonism were rampant. Sound familiar?

As Thérèse matured in Carmel, she grasped at ever-deeper levels that Christ draws His friends into His life and particularly into His passion. From her first days in the Carmel, she experienced mysterious sufferings, which at first, she didn’t understand. In time, she sensed that these sufferings might be an infused, mystical communion with the passion of Christ. In other words, she began to experience, as far as she was able, what Christ had experienced on Calvary as the result of sins, especially sins against the Catholic Faith.

Thérèse composed an Act of Oblation to Merciful Love and prayed it on June 11, 1895. In the prayer, she asked the Father to allow her to share intimately in Jesus’ death of love. About 10 months later, Thérèse entered into what she called her trial of faith. She began to experience temptations to doubt the truths of the faith, especially the existence of heaven. During her trial of faith, Jesus shared with Thérèse the agony caused by the modern world’s revolt against the faith of the Church. So Thérèse took upon herself the transgressions of her times, becoming sin so that others might become the holiness of God. Her trial of faith was coterminous with a physical trial – terminal pulmonary tuberculosis.

Although she lived in a Carmelite monastery, her real dwelling was among sinners. She felt herself one with them. This trial of faith lasted for a year and a half and during that time, she experienced an inexplicable grace: a mystical, infused sharing in Christ’s passion.

Since she often did not fully understand her trial of faith, she learned to love Jesus – and love Him madly – on His terms. She accepted His invitation to make His passion present in her life for the sake of sinners.

This Oblation to Merciful Love was her acceptance of that invitation, for the salvation of others, but in the first place, for Christ’s sake – to spare Him the pain of the loss of even one soul for whom He shed His blood on Calvary. Saved by Jesus’ love, Thérèse offered her sufferings to save Him!

Fr. Miller did not, as far as I know, experience a trial of faith like that of Therese. But he did suffer. While on the faculty at the North American College in Rome, he contracted GuillainBarre Syndrome, which is a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks one’s nerves. He literally had to learn to walk again. It was a serious trial for him, and one which lasted for the remainder of his life.

Fr. Miller never once complained about that, or the other sufferings in his life. But I’m positive that, like Thérèse, in pure love for Our Lord, Fr. Miller offered his sufferings, his passion, in union with Our Lord’s sufferings, for the Church, and especially for priests, seminarians, and religious.

Thérèse said she would spend her Heaven doing good on earth. Fr. Miller spent his earth doing good on earth. Now, he joins Thérèse in doing it from Heaven.

Fr. Miller preached more than 50 first Mass homilies, including my own. I’ll conclude with the way he concluded the homily for my first Mass, though I’ll substitute his name for mine: “On the last day of his life, after a long and fruitful priesthood, may Fr. Fred Miller make the prayer of St. Thérèse his own: ‘Lord, I have never desired anything but to love you and I have been ambitious for no other good.’

Saints of God, come to Fred’s aid; come to meet him, angels of the Lord. Receive his soul and present him to God the most high. Amen.

Rev. Brian X. Needles About Rev. Brian X. Needles

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Fr. Brian Needles began seminary studies in Rome in 1999 and was ordained to the priesthood on May 27, 2006. Fr. Brian was assigned first at St. Joseph of the Palisades Church in West New York, NJ and then at St. Philomena Church in Livingston, NJ. He was then appointed the Director of Campus Ministry at Seton Hall University, serving in that capacity from 2016-19. In 2019, he was assigned as Pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows. Fr. Brian serves on the Council of Priests and the Priest Personnel Board for the Archdiocese of Newark. He is an Adjunct Professor of Theology at Seton Hall University and an Adjunct Spiritual Director at Immaculate Conception Seminary and St. Andrew’s Hall Seminary.

Comments

  1. My sister-in-law met Father Miller at the Notre Dame Institute where he was an instructor. When she was in the last stages of her battle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), Father Miller came to see her. He was so patient with her inability to communicate well and she was was so touched by his presence and loving care for her. May this good priest rest in peace.

  2. Avatar Ann Ambrogi says:

    Father Miller was my professor at Notre Dame Institute in Arlington Virgina . I did become a director of religious education . His classes had me completely prepared for my work . Father loved his students and I remember his dedication to us . Father prepared me spiritually . His devotion to the Blessed Mother he passed on to me . Even before his classes I had devotion to Our Lady . Having his instruction on The True Devotion to Mary by St Louis de Montfort strengthen me more to love Our Lady . I had the courage to teach it in a parish in The Villages in Florida . Father always answered any questions I had on our faith. I did teach religion on several grades and I was well prepared to handle any questions . Rest In Peace Father Miller . Thank you . Ann Ambrogi

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