Sister Miriam Francis Perlewitz
Current Location – Bangladesh
Miriam Francis was born October 6, 1930 in Milwaukee, WI to Henrietta G. (Hansen) and Clarence Perlewitz. She had 3 brothers: James, Eugene and Thomas. Miriam Francis graduated from Messmer High School, Milwaukee, WI in 1948.
Entering the Maryknoll Sisters Novitiate in Valley Park, MO, October 14, 1948 from Milwaukee, WI, Sister Miriam Francis made her First Profession of Vows May 8, 1951 at Valley Park and Final Vows May 8, 1954 at the Center in NY. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Education degree from Maryknoll Teachers College in 1954. Sister Miriam Francis taught Art at the college and then served as an Assistant Novice Mistress and Liturgical Music Director until she was assigned to Hong Kong in 1960.
After teaching Music and Biblical Knowledge two years at Maryknoll Convent School, Kowloon, Hong Kong, Sister Miriam Francis was assigned to the Philippines to be Assistant Novice Mistress at the Novitiate in Quezon City where women from Asia entered the Maryknoll Sisters. In 1967, Sister Miriam Francis returned to the U.S. for studies, earning her M.A. in Biblical Literature and a Ph.D. with a Major in Biblical Languages and Literature at St. Louis University, St. Louis, MO. In 1970. In 1977 she earned a Doctorate, making her a Dr. of Philosophy – Biblical Language/Literature from St. Louis University, St. Lois, MO.
In 1978, Sister Miriam Francis was named Co-Director of the Mission Renewal Program to respond to the spiritual, personal and professional needs of returning missioners. She was a Faculty Member of the Maryknoll School of Theology from 1979 to 1991, and it was in her sabbatical year in 1985 that Sister Miriam Francis began teaching Scripture at the National Major Seminary in Dhaka, Bangladesh, rotating six months at the Maryknoll School of Theology and six months in Bangladesh.
In 1992, Sister Miriam Francis was assigned full time to Bangladesh to teach at the National Seminary.
However, that same year Sister Miriam Francis also worked with another Maryknoll Sister to offer an environment where women of all religious beliefs afflicted with drug addiction problems could begin a recovery process. Of this experience, she said, “Many of the women on drugs were beset by poverty, but some were also college graduates, frustrated because they could not obtain positions in professions and businesses in a male-dominated culture.”
After several years, the Sisters changed gears from rehabilitation to prevention through education.
In 1996 they opened the BACHA Education for Life Center in Dhaka which aims to counter drug-addiction with an innovative curriculum of human values, training young women and men as facilitators to do this in secondary schools in several dioceses. BACHA’s training course shows how human values are reinforced by the basic teachings of the great world religions because the majority of students and teachers are Muslim, with a minority of Hindus and Christians. The course given once weekly over three years enables youth to cope with life’s challenges without turning to drugs. This course has expanded to colleges, Sister formation houses and seminaries. A couple of government schools also use the program. BACHA is a Bengali word meaning “to live again,” or “to rise up.”
BACHA is also an English acronym for Bangladesh Alternative Course for Human Advancement. In order to make this successful program self-supporting, in 2001 the two Sisters opened the primary BACHA English Medium School, including nursery and kindergarten, in a lower middle income residential area. Their hopes are that the income will financially support the values education program while incorporating values education at the early stages of development.
What happened to her personally, Sister Miriam Francis felt, is what happens to the Church in mission.