Sister Mary Miller to receive social justice award

Erin McGarrity, Staff writer

On the evening of Friday, April 8, Sister Mary Miller, director of Emmaus Ministries in Erie, will receive the 2016 Archbishop Oscar Romero Award during a ceremony at Mercyhurst.

The Romero Award, named after the murdered archbishop of San Salvador, goes annually to a leader of peace and justice in the Erie community. The first recipient of the award was peace activist Father Daniel Berrigan, who received the honor in 1991.

Miller became the director of Emmaus Ministries in 1980, the same year that archbishop Romero died. During that time, the organization operated solely as a soup kitchen. Since then, under her leadership, the ministry has greatly expanded to include Emmaus Food Pantry, Sister Gus’ Kids Café and Emmaus Grove: The Erie Urban Farm School.

Countless people in the Erie community have become involved in Emmaus Ministries as a result of Miller’s passion and hard work. The organization currently hosts over 300 volunteers, and it is the largest on-site food provider across the state of Pennsylvania.

Verna Ehret, associate professor of religious studies at Mercyhurst, explains why Miller earned the Romero award.

“Sister Mary Miller beautifully exemplifies Archbishop Romero’s particular concern for the poor and marginalized of society,” Ehret said. Each year, the Religious Studies Department honors individuals like Sister Mary who “live the call of faith and justice in an extraordinary manner.”

Miller is widely known throughout the Erie community, and she frequently receives requests from the media and other national organizations similar to Emmaus to address large-scale issues of poverty and hunger. She believes her role, as a Benedictine sister, is “to stand with the poor — not just feed them, but speak up for them.”

“Working with the poor goes hand in hand with doing something about social injustice in the world. Soup kitchens are Band-Aids…they’re not the answer to the problem. You have to get at the root, the cause of the problem,” Miller said.

Robert von Thaden, Ph.D., chair of the religious studies department at Mercyhurst, says it is a privilege to annually honor individuals like Sister Mary.

“It is my privilege…to be able to work with my departmental colleagues and the university to honor an individual who lives out her faith and who exemplifies the ideals of our Mercy mission in such an extraordinary way,” von Thaden said.

von Thaden said he believes the award speaks to an overall, communal responsibility to do good.

Miller will also present the annual Romero Lecture, which will focus largely on her work in the Erie community pursuing social justice. The event, titled “Icons at Emmaus,” is open to the public, and it will take place on Friday, April 8, at 7 p.m. in the Mercy Heritage Room.