In June, I read a fascinating obituary in the Telegraph about an American, Ann Russell Miller, whose life journey took her from being a socialite to a Carmelite.

This lady lacked nothing in her life and gave it all up for the Lord.

The article has photographs of her throughout her life, which are equally fascinating. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Early life

Ann Russell was born in San Francisco on October 20, 1928 and was an only child. Her father was the chairman of Southern Pacific, the railway line that served much of the western United States.

The Telegraph describes her as being ‘petite and vivacious’. Her parents sent her to the Spence School in New York. She returned to the Bay Area for higher education at Mills College in Oakland.

In 1948, she married Richard Miller when she was 20 years old. Miller’s family had founded Pacific Gas & Electric.

On her wedding day, a young man told her he would wait for her, which he did (see below):

In the reception line at her wedding, a rival admirer, George “Corky” Bowles, kissed Ann on the cheek and told her: “I will wait for you.”

Married life

Ann bore Richard ten children: five daughters and five sons. She had the first five by the age of 27.

She was splendidly Catholic: a woman who partied but also prayed.

(As a side note, people express empathy for me when I tell them I was raised a Catholic: ‘Oh, that must have been terrible’. I say that it was great fun. Today, I cannot be anything other than Anglican, which is even better because one can go straight to the Source, as it were.)

The Telegraph tells us:

She smoked, drank, played cards and spent five hours a day on the telephone, though she did once give up the instrument for Lent.

She devoted her life to charity but not without personal extravagance:

she was friends with Nancy Reagan and Loretta Young, the film star [also a devout Catholic], and sat on the board of 22 charitable organisations. She had her hair done four times a week by Elizabeth Arden, covered her parasols with Hermès scarves and had her spectacles coordinated with her outfits.

She and her husband also hosted frequent dinner parties:

Forty guests regularly sat down to dinner at the nine-bedroom house overlooking San Francisco Bay where she and her husband Richard made their lives.

Deciding on the convent

In 1984, Ann Russell Miller became a widow. Richard Miller died of cancer that year.

She knew her plans for the next phase of her life included entering the convent, so she told her children of her decision:

At two separate lunches at Trader Vic’s, for her five sons and her five daughters, Ann Russell Miller – a devout, not to say dogmatic Roman Catholic – told her children of her decision to take the veil. She had decided, she said, to devote the rest of her life to taking care of her soul.

She spent the next few years divesting herself of her material possessions:

She spent the next years doing all she wanted to do and in giving away all her wealth (the house was bought by one of the members of the rock group Metallica).

In 1988, George ‘Corky’ Bowles, the man who told her he would wait for her, took her on a cruise in the Mediterranean, even though he knew she wanted to enter the convent:

One evening under the stars, he slowly knelt on the deck of the yacht and asked Ann Russell Miller to marry him.

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous,” she said.

In 1989, on her 61st birthday, she threw a lavish farewell party:

at the Hilton for her 800 closest friends. Guests listened to music by two orchestras and nibbled at a coquille of seafood as Ann Russell Miller moved through the crowd, trailing a helium balloon bearing the words “Here I am.”

Convent life

The day after her farewell party, Ann Russell Miller flew to Chicago and headed for the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

This cloistered order is also known as the Discalced Carmelites. ‘Discalced’ means ‘shoeless’. The nuns wear sandals.

(Another side note: I know a Discalced Carmelite, a woman I met at university.)

News of the socialite’s arrival at the Chicago convent travelled quickly. Reporters contacted the Mother Superior who gave a wise reply to their enquiries:

the Mother Superior replied shortly that there was no story in a nun entering a convent, but there might be in someone remaining there.

Indeed.

Ann Russell Miller never went beyond the convent walls and assumed the most basic life buoyed by prayer. Upon taking her vows, she became Sister Mary Joseph of the Trinity:

after five years as a postulant she was allowed to take her final vows and join the other 17 resident sisters.

Sister Mary Joseph now slept on a thin mattress and a bed made of planks. She wore a brown habit, black veil and sandals, and spent 23½ hours of the day in silence. The order is a secluded one, so she never again went out into the world.

That said, she still kept in touch with her friends by fax.

In keeping with convent rules, she was allowed only one visitor per month:

even then meetings were conducted with her sat behind two sets of bars.

Her son Mark tweeted that she never met many of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

He also revealed that his mother retained her spark:

Sister Mary Joseph, said Mark Miller, often had to ask forgiveness for being late for her duties and for breaking the rules by throwing sticks for the nuns’ German Shepherd.

She still had one property, which she her daughters administered for her:

Through some of her daughters, she also retained control of a rural family property from which she banned those of her children who divorced and remarried.

What an unusual story for:

one of the “Rockefellers of the West Coast”, as a friend put it, a hard-partying, high-diving, fast-driving socialite with a shoe collection that made Imelda Marcos’s seem “pitiful in comparison”.

May Sister Mary Joseph of the Trinity rest in peace with the Lord.