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Obituary of John Carl Miller
After a long struggle to regain his health, former Quincy College grad, Franciscan seminarian and novice, Catholic Charities field agent, and elementary school social worker/clinician, John Miller, passed away in Olympia, Washington, on November 4, 2023, at the age of 79.
John, born in rural Bavaria, was raised in Munich, Germany. He remembered his mom, Matilda, often taking him to local sights like the Frauenkirche and the magnificent Nymphenberg Palace. Offered a chance to work in America, Matilda, with eight-year-old John, boarded a ship bound for the U.S., she and her son not knowing a word of English. Reaching New York, they took a train west to Savannah, Missouri. Within a year, young John was speaking English as fluently as his peers, helped by one of the local nuns to learn his new language. His secondary education came from the Christian Brothers of St. Joseph, Missouri, where John and his mother has subsequently moved. He graduated from high school in 1962.
John’s college years were spent at Quincy College, Qunicy, Illinois, where, interestingly, one of his roommates was John Mahoney, who later went on to play the role of Martin Crane in the TV sitcom “Frasier.” During his years in Quincy, John became the administrative assistant for professor Fr. Francis Jerome Gray, OFM, Ph.D. (1922-2003), a beloved teacher, mentor, and his lifelong friend.
After graduating in May 1965 with a degree in history, John, feeling a calling to the priesthood and religious life, joined the seminary class two years his junior at Our Lady of the Angels Franciscan Seminary, located a mile north of the main Quincy College campus because he’d need to spend a year studying Latin and philosophy before entering the Franciscan Novitiate. Though a newcomer to a group who had been together since high school, John soon became close friends with several of his seminary classmates, among them Burt Gustafson with whom he was later assigned to teach religious education during his year of Novitiate.
John’s Novitiate year, typically inserted after a student’s sophomore year of college, began in July of 1966. He and his 22 classmates found their days taken up with religion-oriented classes (e.g., studying “The Psalms of Praise”), canning pears, Wednesday and Saturday nights “Spielabend” (i.e., game night), choir rehearsals, and praying the various “hours” of the Divine Office; among them during Advent was Matins, where they were awakened at 11:45 p.m. to head downstairs to the chapel to spend a half-hour chanting several psalms and somewhat drowsily meditating. Various chores were assigned during the year. John’s assignment was baking and cutting the hosts that were used for daily mass, a job John loved because, also stored in the basement “host room,” there were day-old copies of the local newspaper, giving John a leg-up on most of his classmates in being aware of what was going on in the larger world outside the Novitiate walls.
By the end of Novitiate, many in the class had left. John moved on to Chicago, where he’d found a job with Catholic Charities. Later, after earning a Master’s in Social Work, he served as a clinical therapist for Calumet City elementary schools. He also began dating one of his college classmates, Sandy Ploof, whom he married in a beautiful ceremony on June 13, 1970, at St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church on Chicago’s South Side, with his dear friend “FJ” presiding. In the first few years after their wedding, John and Sandy lived at several addresses on Chicago’s far South Side before finally building a home in Crete, Illinois, with a barn big enough to hold the several horses that were Sandy’s passion; one horse, a thoroughbred, later won several races. John and Sandy were also terrific entertainers; their Halloween parties were legendary, especially the one featuring Orson Welles’ famous 1939 “War of the Worlds” radio drama.
They were a great team, together caring for their animals, working the farm, developing their knowledge of the horse trade, and helping the youth and challenged individuals whom they served. In 2000, after retiring from their jobs, John and Sandy, having fallen in love with Montana, built a lovely house there, constructed in its final months with the help of craftsmen from the nearby Amish community, with a guest bedroom over the garage and, again, a barn big enough to hold their several horses. Situated in the historic Jefferson Valley (think Lewis and Clark), their home’s average temperature tended towards being a little warmer than that of their neighbors in Butte, a half hour west. Their second floor deck looked out on the Tobacco Root Mountains, a gorgeous view, especially in the light of a full moon on a summer night.
After their last horse died in 2016, John and Sandy decided to a move further west to a senior community in Lacey, Washington, a 25-minute walk from Puget Sound. There, with their pet newfies and several cats, they soon made good friends with several of their new neighbors, enjoying a more temperate clime, and the intellectual stimulation of the periodic presentations offered in the main lodge, many of them visiting college professors. They also continued their love of travel. After Sandy’s diligent research, for which John was always so appreciative, they’d found a company whose time-share policies allowed them to visit some of the most beautiful places in the country, including Hawaii.
In his last years, John’s walking became more labored, due no doubt in part to his two previous hip surgeries. What with the TB that he’d contracted as a child in Germany, his breathing too became compromised. After a fall this past January, John was rushed by ambulance to the hospital, given a tracheotomy, and endured months of being unable to speak. Through it all, Sandy was at his side. The trach was finally removed in early summer. By then, John’s muscles had weakened to the point where he was no longer able to walk. Sandy used her formidable research skills to find the best rehab facilities in the area, but none were able to overcome the health concerns John faced. Yet to the very end, John remained alert, a passionate Democrat, a wry observer of human life, and a person who would be deeply missed, first of all by the love of his life, Sandy, but also by those who were privileged to have known and loved him.
Rest in peace, John
--written by Dennis J. Newman, former Franciscan Seminarian and Quincy College graduate, Class of 1969
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