The millionaire from San Francisco who left everything and became a cloistered nun

The millionaire from San Francisco who left everything and became a cloistered nun

A 92-year-old American nun, who took vows of silence, loneliness and poverty, died on June 5 in the monastery where she resided for the last three decades of her life.

However, the complete life story of the hermana Mary Joseph is far from ordinary.

Until she gave up everything to dedicate her life to prayer, she was known as Ann Russell Miller, a wealthy San Francisco celebrity who threw lavish parties, attended opera performances frequently, and was the mother of ten children.

Born in 1928, Ann dreamed of becoming a nun, but fell in love instead.

At 20 she married Richard Miller, who later became vice president of Pacific Gas and Electric, a utility company.

“At 27 she already had five children,” says her youngest son, Mark Miller, “and then she had five more, a basketball team of each sex. Planned Parenthood,” he called it.

“I had a million friends. I smoked, drank and played cards. She was also an open water swimmer”, he adds.

“She was driving so fast and he was so reckless that people got out of their car with one foot sore from hitting the imaginary brakes. She quit smoking, alcohol and caffeine the same day and somehow managed not to commit a homicide,” says her son with humor.

An “unusual” nun

Ann raised her family in a nine-room mansion overlooking San Francisco Bay and was known for taking her friends on vacations skiing, yachting in the Mediterranean, and archaeological digs.

She served on 22 different boards of directors and raised money for talented college students, the homeless, and the Catholic Church.

Her husband died of cancer in 1984 and it was then that she began the long and thoughtful journey to join one of the strictest orders of nuns in the world.

Five years later, she gave everything she had to join the congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Des Plaines, Illinois.

The monastery did not allow many visitors and those who did were separated by metal bars.
The monastery did not allow many visitors and those who did were separated by metal bars.

The Carmelite nuns are an austere, cloistered order who live largely in silence.

They do not leave the monastery, except when necessary, such as for a medical visit. The nuns only speak if it is essential, allocating their time for contemplation and prayer.

“She was an unusual type of nun” describes Mark Miller. “She did not sing very well, she often arrived late for her required duties in the convent and threw sticks to play with the dogs, which was not allowed,” he adds.

“I have only seen her twice in the last 33 years since she moved to the convent and when I went to visit I could not hug her or touch her. It was separated by a pair of metal bars ”, details the son.

The farewell

Ann's ten children in age order from right to left.
Ann’s ten children in age order from right to left.

Ann had 28 grandchildren, some of whom she never knew and has more than a dozen great-grandchildren, none of whom she held in her arms.

She slept on a wooden plank covered by a thin mattress in a cell and during the day she wore a brown habit and sandals, a far cry from his previous life full of silk umbrellas, Hermes scarves and Versace shoes.

On her 61st birthday, Ann hosted a party for 800 guests at the Hilton Hotel in San Francisco to say goodbye to her friends and family.

They ate expensive seafood, listened to music with a live orchestra, and Ann is said to have wore a wreath and tied a helium balloon that said “here I am” so people could find her to say goodbye.

She told her guests that she had dedicated her first 30 years of life to herself, the second 30 to her children, and that the last third of her life would be dedicated to God.

The next day she flew to Chicago to live in the monastery as Sister Mary Joseph.

As a child, Ann dreamed of becoming a nun, but instead found love with her husband Richard Miller.
As a child, Ann dreamed of becoming a nun, but instead found love with her husband Richard Miller.

“Our relationship was complicated,” says her son. “She was born in the 1920s and died in the 1920s of the next century. (She was) Ann Russell Miller, Trinity OCD’s Sister Mary Joseph.”

Melissa Galbraith
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.