Matushka Olga Michael (1916–1979)
Within the Eastern Orthodox context, the wives of priests are given honorary titles that reflect their role in the parish community. In the Russian tradition, priests' wives are called
Matushka Olga may appear unremarkable at first glance, but through her seemingly ordinary life she was able to touch lives in extraordinary ways. She and her husband gave birth to thirteen children, although only eight of them survived to maturity. Matushka Olga gave birth to several of them without a midwife, and she served as a midwife to laboring mothers in her community, caring for them with compassion and gentleness.
She was graced with a special kind of intuition — she could often sense that a woman was pregnant long before anyone else knew. Likewise, she was able to discern which pregnancies might be difficult, and she was able to offer useful advice to pregnant women long before the challenges of their pregnancies became apparent to others.
Matushka Olga fulfilled many of the tasks that are traditionally associated with Orthodox priests' wives — she baked prosphera, the bread for communion, and she memorized many of the church hymns in her native tongue.
Her passion, however, was knitting. She devoted herself to making mittens, socks, and fur outerwear for those in need. She loved to send unsolicited gifts, including traditional Alaskan winter boots, or mukluks. All of the local (and not-so-local) clergy wore winter clothes crafted by her.
Matushka Olga was generous, despite her own financial limitations. Her family lived in a house with only three rooms, no sewer hookup, no furnace, and no running water. But her heart went to out to those in greater need. Her generosity may have occasionally caused some distress to her own children, as she was sometimes compelled to give away their clothes before they had a chance to outgrow them. She told her children that if they saw someone in the village wearing their clothes, they were to keep quiet about it.
According to one account, she asked one of her daughters to bring a child over who had been neglected. Matushka Olga cooked potato pancakes for the child, standing with her back to her. The child kept eating and eating, and Matushka Olga kept serving her more and more pancakes. Finally, her daughter reported that the little girl was “stealing” the pancakes. Matushka Olga instructed her daughter to keep quiet, to let the little girl take as much as she needed.
A Holy Death
Like many holy people, Matushka Olga's sanctity became more apparent after her death. After surviving one bout with cancer when she was younger, she had several years of remission, followed by a diagnosis that the cancer had returned. When she understood that death was inevitable, she began to prepare herself for the end. She died on November 8, 1979.
Although many people wished to attend her funeral, travel in Alaska is extremely difficult, especially to remote villages during the winter. But soon after she died, the weather shifted. The snow and ice melted suddenly and hundreds from miles around were able to attend her funeral on the unusually springlike day.
As the community processed out of the church with her body, a flock of birds joined the procession and followed her to her gravesite. This was an extremely unusual occurrence because by that time of the season, most birds have flown south.
The unseasonably warm weather had thawed the earth and made it soft and easy to dig. After the memorial meal, when all the guests had made it safely home, the winter winds howled again, ice covered the river, and the snows returned.
Dreams and Visions
Although Matushka Olga has departed this world, some believe that they have had encounters with her since her death. One woman, originally from Alaska but living in Arizona at the time, did not know that her mother, in Alaska, was sick. One night she had a dream in which Matushka Olga told her that her mother was to join Olga in a “bright and joyful place.” The next day, the woman received news that her mother was seriously ill. She flew back to Alaska and was able to reassure her mother with Matushka Olga's words just before she died.
Another woman, who had suffered severe sexual abuse as a child, had an extraordinary encounter with Matushka Olga. The woman was awake and praying when she saw the Virgin Mary walking toward her. She soon realized that the Virgin Mary was not alone. When she asked who the Virgin Mary was with, she responded, “St. Olga.”
The woman accompanied Matushka Olga to a little hill with a door on the side. Inside the house, everything was warm and dry. The woman was in pain, and she appeared to be five months pregnant. She began to go into labor, and Matushka Olga stood beside her, showing her how to breathe and helping her to push something out.
Matushka Olga was a Yup'ik Eskimo, and the house seen in the vision would have been traditional to her culture. The tea the women drank smelled of rose, violet, and pine — this would be Labrador tea, which grows abundantly on the tundra.
Matushka Olga then made some tea, and as the two women drank tea together, Olga became luminous. The woman reported that Olga “poured tenderness into her through her eyes.” She believed that through Olga, she was experiencing deep healing.
Afterward, Olga explained to the woman that people can do evil things. She told her that the people who hurt her thought they could force her to carry their evil through rape, but that was not possible. She said, “Only God can carry evil away. The only thing they could put inside you was the seed of life which is a creation of God and cannot pollute anyone.”
Afterward, the two women went outside the hut and saw a sky filled with shimmering stars. Matushka Olga may have said, or the two women may have just heard in their hearts, that “the moving curtain of light was to be for us a promise that God can create beauty from complete desolation and nothingness. For me, it was proof of the healing — great beauty where there had been nothing before but despair hidden by shame and great effort.” (Source material provided by an article by Fr. John Shimchick, “Matushka Olga Michael: A Helper in Restoring the World of God's Hands,” published in