A startling World War history lesson leaped out of a 1940, Lewiston Maine newspaper, yellowing with age, in an above the fold headline: “Une Jeune Relig’euse de Lewiston tuée France”. This essay is my tribute to the life of Sister Myriam*.
World nations are recognizing the centennial anniversary commemorating the signing of the Armistice ending World War I, on November 11, 2018. The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world, wrote Erik Sass in his on series of blogs about World War I. On November 11, 2018 at 11 AM, there will be a National Tolling of Bells to commemorate this centennial. Check this site for information:
European nations were aided in their victory due in large measure to the assistance of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), sent to France to protect western Europe during the German invasion. As we know, the War to End All Wars, as World War I was wrongly labeled, only served to be a quasi armistice. Unfortunately, conflicts were inflamed again when Adolf Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany.
An innocent young lady from Lewiston, who was a religious nun at the time of her death, was the victim of the Nazi invasion of France, before the US entered World War II. A report about her death was published on the front page of a 1940, French Language newspaper “Le Messager”. I found the article while doing research about Franco-American Veterans, at the University of Southern Maine Franco-American Collection at the Lewiston Auburn College (USM LAC FAC).
Posted here is an essay I wrote about Sister Myriam. Her Christian name was Ida Lévêque.
It was an obituary tribute, printed in large font on the French language newspaper Le Messager, calling attention to the high esteem the deceased nun, Sister Myriam, held among the readers. Finding the 1940 obituary of Ida Lévêque, printed in headline font on Le Messager, was like visualizing a ghost’s image on paper.
Reading the news about her about her life and untimely death before World War II, while she was in France, was reminiscent of experiencing a specter in a dream. It was like she sincerely wanted to be noticed. Her death came as an unlikely victim of the war in France. In fact, the news about her death has transcended time, because the sadness described in the circumstances that killed her are still universally understood and stirs our emotional response.
Sister Myriam was killed while she was a refugee.
In fact, the above the fold news described how she was killed in a Nazi bomb attack in northern France during the 1940 fighting in “The Battle of France” (May 10-June 6, 1940).
Tragically, the newspaper reported how she was killed along with 6 other religious sisters in the air attack. Unfortunately, Sister Myriam was killed while the group was trying to escape an attack by the Nazi Luftwaffe. Her death in France was as sad to read in the 21st century, as it must have been to those who could not know, at the time, when the United States would eventually enter World War II, in Europe. An original copy of Le Messager, with the news reports about her death were published in an above the fold obituary. The newspaper was donated to the Franco-American Collection at the University of Maine Lewiston Auburn College, Fanco-American Collection. Her picture, printed in the newspaper, was a beautiful portrait of a gracious young lady, evidently taken before she entered religious life. Nearly all of the front page news in the 1940 newspaper described the terror of Nazi operations in Europe. But, the lead headline above the fold read, “Une Jeune Relig’euse de Lewiston tuée France”.
Reading about Sister Myriam’s short life created a surprisingly teachable moment, as though her spirit somehow touched a pause button in my archival research to find information about Franco-American veterans.
Her story was close to home and personal evidence about the horror of trying to survive in the midst of a war and the human toll consumed by the carnage. By reading about Sister Myriam’s attempt to escape the dangerous escalating war in Europe, we can imagine how her panic continues to be experienced by millions of refugees, in modern times. Desperate people who we are reading about in the news, nearly every day.
“Sister Myriam was killed by a Nazi bomb”, reported her death in another newspaper.
News media in the 21st century hardly ever use the word “Nazi” anymore, unless it refers to radicalized right wing political groups. In Germany, the word is almost a profane noun.
In fact, the word is more like an ideological stereotype than a description of the perpetrators of the deadly 1940, Luftwaffe’s attack on a group of nuns. Yet, in the yellow newsprint, nearly every story reported on the front page was about the Nazi invasion of Europe.
Although Sister Myriam died in June of 1940 (and the exact date could even have been May 30th), it was not until August that her death was reported. She was described as being a refugee who was fleeing the Nazi “horde”. Her family was well known in the Lewiston community, because she was the daughter of Maine State Representative and Mrs. Pierre Lévêque, of Blake Street. During the Nazi attack, she was killed by a bomb near Béthune, in Northern France. Her family was notified in a letter written by Siser Maria Donimique. “Myriam attempted to flee Béthune in the company of Sister Marie De Bethlehem. When the bombardment began, the sisters took refuge in a small house at the side of the road. Ten other persons were also huddled in the wooden structure when the bomb struck. Seven of them were killed, while the others were severely injured. Sister Marie De Bethlehem was buried in the debris for 19 hours before a group of nuns were able to reach her.” But, Sister Myriam did not survive.”
Sadly, Sister Myriam’s short life was framed by war. In fact, she was born in Lewiston on August 3, 1914, on the day when the First World War was declared, in Europe. At the time, it was supposed to be “La guerre pour mettre fin à toutes les guerres” or The War to End All Wars; but, instead, “le der des ders” (the end of the end) was the prelude to World War II.
As though it were somehow predestined at the time of her birth, at the onset of World War I, Sister Myriam’s life ended in a war. Undoubtedly, in a time when the entire world was consumed by war, and during The Great Depression of the 1930s, Sister Myriam made a choice to dedicate her life to teaching and helping others. Her formal religious life began when she entered the Dominican Order in 1933, in Valleyfield, Quebec.
Later, during her stay in France (where the Dominican priests, nuns and brothers have an international headquarters) she was sent to complete her religious studies at the Sorbonne, in Paris. She was scheduled to return home to Lewiston in the fall of 1940, to teach.
During her life, it was the pacifist Mahatma Ghandi who inspired the world during those troubled times, when he challenged us to become the change we want to see in the world. Sister Myriam lived the change she hoped to see in the world. Sadly, as a result of her unexpected death in a Luftwaffe attack, the opportunity to inspire others through teaching was ended in Béthune. Yet, in the above the fold obituary, her spirit reached out to teach us today. We can be the change to help the refugees we read about and see on the news today. Sister Myriam created an awareness, in my mind, about how we can strive to be our own “above the fold” news, by working for peace and the protection of desperate people who are victimized by wars.
By the way, in my opinion, Ida Lévêque should be among the listed names of Maine casualties of wars.
An informative first person essay about Le Messager was published in the University of Maine digital commons archives, by Mitchel John Roberge. His essay is available at this University of Maine public link: https://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1001&context=francoamericain_undergradpub
My original essay “Above the Fold” was published in Goose River Press 2017 Anthology.