ROCHESTER — Dorothy K. Miller sat in her room at The Heritage, which is part of St. Ann’s Community on Portland Avenue. Sheepishly, the devout, never-married Catholic admitted that she had not only hugged her young doctor recently, but kissed him as well.
“Just on the cheek, of course,” she added.
What drove Miller to such an exuberant expression of affection was the good news her doctor had for her — she was free of bladder cancer after being diagnosed with it last fall. In fact, she’s so healthy, at one point during a recent interview, she stood up next to a wall and kicked her legs up high like a Rockette onstage at Radio City Music Hall.
“How many 83-year-olds do you know who can do that?” she practically shouted.
Miller is an intriguing mix of piety and humor, utterly devoid of sanctimony, speaking about Jesus and Mary as if they were friends who drop by regularly.
“The Lord and the Blessed Mother are tops,” she said.
She likes a few other spirits as well, noting that for the second of two surgeries she had to remove the cancer, she wore a tiny piece of cloth, which was a relic of Blessed Grimoaldo Santamaria. A member of the Passionist religious order, Santamaria spent his brief life (1883-1902) in Italy, where he achieved a reputation for holiness. After his death, his mother and a sister emigrated to the United States and made Rochester their permanent home.
Miller, who has also had Masses said for the late Pope John Paul II, believes that she has heavenly intercessors like the pope and Santamaria on her side, which is one of the reasons she recently made a donation of a $4,000 statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to Holy Spirit Church in Penfield.
“I wanted to give back to God what he had given to me,” she said.
The statue was blessed during a ceremony at Holy Spirit June 3. Miller financed a dinner for the parish that drew about 300 people, she said. The ceremony and dinner were quite the success, she added.
“All there was left was just a little tossed salad, some pulled pork and some buns,” she noted.
Miller, who said the statue was made in Italy, purchased it in 2002, a few years after her brother, Arthur A. Miller, had died, and she had placed it on the family farm in Penfield.
“He loved the Sacred Heart,” she said.
When she decided to move from the farm to The Heritage this year — “It’s not good to live alone” — she also decided to donate the statue to Holy Spirit.
“If it brings out devotion and faith in people, then it’s doing its thing, whereas out at the farm, who was looking at it?” she said.
Serving the Catholic Church and the poor has long occupied Miller’s spare time. In the 1950s, she sold Christmas cards and other holiday items on behalf of Holy Angels Home for girls in Rochester. She also gleaned produce from Penfield-area farmers for the home, as well as the Sisters of Mercy and the Sisters of St. Joseph’s Infirmary. She particularly remembered gathering dropped peaches from peach trees.
“I’d come home from work in my old clothes and crawled under the trees ‘til dark,” she said.
Among her other works of charity was starting a coffee club, the proceeds of which were donated to a mission in Brazil; collecting items for the poor; and organizing eucharistic devotions. At The Heritage, she said she wants to organize outdoor exercise sessions for her fellow residents. She added that it was suggested to her before she move in that she live on the 13th floor, which she roundly rejected.
“I want to be on the second floor where I’m accessible to people,” she said. “I want to help people.”