Sister Miriam Thomas, a south Bronx icon who helped build affordable housing and gave communities their spiritual and material sustenance for decades, passed away on Thursday, March 20.
Thomas, 80, helped with the rebuilding of much of residential parts of Hunts Point and Longwood devastated during the late 60s and 70s by arson. She also was active in local mission work and politics.
In Longwood in the 1970s, the buildings may have been on fire, but the heart and soul of the community remained intact thanks to the efforts of people like her.
Thomas was a Sister of Charity who entered the order in 1951 and took an active role as a community service worker in Longwood’s Saint Athanasius Parish beginning in 1967.
From 1972 to 2004 she worked as the administrator of the multiservice Simpson Street Development Association.
Her work at Saint Athanasius continued until 2013 as the director of a community outreach program.
Condolences on the news of her death poured in from elected officials and the Sisters of Charity.
“As a Catholic nun her faith in God and in our community could move mountains,” said Congressman Jose Serrano. “She was involved in every aspect of community life: serving on boards, feeding the hungry, helping to build and find housing for the homeless and giving of herself to all members of our community.”
For Serrano personally, she was a special friend of many years, he said. Whenever he saw her there was a warm hug and a smile, he said, and he fondly recalled receiving four or five notes a year from her every year stating that she was praying for him and that he should not lose hope.
Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said that he was deeply saddened to hear the news. She was a person who dedicated her life to serving the community, he added.
“Sister Thomas always did God’s work outside the church walls and gained the love and admiration of all through her tireless work in the Bronx,” he said.
He remembered her as a long time member of Bronx Community Board 2, and stated “She became a beacon of hope and a leader in the tenants’ rights movement.”
Sister Thomas was an advocate for those in need and kept her door open to all who sought her help, he added.
The Sisters of Charity also remembered her.
“Sister Thomas was a fun-loving and outgoing person who took great delight in entertaining and emceeing shows for the sisters,” the sisters said in a statement. “Saint Patrick’s Day at the Convent of Mary the Queen will be a different experience without our ‘Trud.’”
The sisters recalled her role at the South East Bronx Community Association (SEBCO), working with Father Louis Gigante to rebuild much of the Longwood area after it was devastated by arson and abandonment three decades ago.
A wake for Sister Thomas will be held at St. Athanasius Parish, 878 Tiffany Street, on Sunday, March 23 from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. A funeral mass will be held there at 10:30 a.m. on Monday.