Above the Fold – an essay about Sister Myriam

World War I soldiers

World War I was an unprecedented catastrophe, wrote Erik Sass

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*.

Sister Myrium 1914-1940

A yellowed copy of Le Messager described the death of Sister Myriam, during an attack by Nazi Luftwaffe in France in 1940.

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:

Bells of Peace

National Day of Remembrance planned for November 11, 2018 to commemorate the end of the First World War.

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.

 

Juliana L'Heureux

About Juliana L'Heureux

Juliana L’Heureux is a free lance writer who publishes news, blogs and articles about Franco-Americans and the French culture. She has written about the culture in weekly and bi-weekly articles, for the past 27 years.