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From housekeepers to editors

· Celebrating the Centenary of the Daughters of St. Paul ·

This year marks the centenary of the founding of the Society of the Daughters of St. Paul. Founded by Giacomo Alberione, who earlier established a men’s printing school that later would become the Society of St. Paul, dedicated to the charism of a media apostolate. For Fr. Alberione, the modern media invented by man was capable of becoming the instrument of his salvation: “The machine becomes a pulpit, the place composition, or machinery and new become a church”, he said as preaching of the Pauline Father became increasingly linked to the press. “You won’t be able to know the souls to whom you have brought a little light. That’s how our apostolate is. A priest who preaches and then goes into the confessional sees the fruit of his preaching. We do not have this satisfaction. Our satisfaction will be given us on the day of judgment when we see the help our work has been to souls”.

Anna Maria Parenzan with several Philippino Sisters

The male congregation's charism was immediately clear, yet this was not the case for the congregation for women. The Daughters of St. Paul began with a small group of young ladies led by Angela Boffi. In 1915 it carried out tasks more typically done by women - cleaning, laundry and the kitchen - at the home of the Pius Society of St. Paul. The press apostolate was only for men at first. It’s unfortunate that the congregation has erased the memory of Mary Angela Boffi, its first director, who at Susa began the work of writing and printing with great success, before retiring to the Franciscan tertiaries Susa due to conflicts with Fr. Alberione, who did not appreciate the initiative undertake autonomously by women. Today the Daughters of St. Paul recognize Teresa Merlo, Mistress Tecla, as the model of the female Pauline charism: she served as superior general and a close - and obedient - collaborator of Don Alberione.

The Pauline Sisters began took to the press in 1918, when Bishops Giuseppe Castelli, of Susa, invited them to move to his city to publish the diocesan weekly, “The Susa Valley”, as well as a number of religious publications. Some of the sisters, however, remained in Alba to carry out more domestic tasks at the men’s house, and this work was maintained throughout the history of the institute. At first entirely dedicated to so-called women’s work, they then divided into master printers and “workers” involved in domestic chores - a division that, despite opposing guidelines of the Sacred Congregation for Religious, remained the case despite official denials necessary for papal approval - and in 1943, the Sisters were still divided between the press apostolate and domestic work at the home of the men’s institute.

This internal division resulted in the separation of the Disciples of the Daughters of St. Paul. This division occurred in 1947 under the form of the creation of a new institution: the Disciples of the Divine Master. The Disciples, mentioned for the first time since Alberione in a document of 1926, were devoted “to the perpetual adoration (night and day) of the Divine Master in the Holy Tabernacle for the press”. And they were in charge of cleaning for the male branch.

The Sacred Congregation for Religious, which in 1928 had approved the Daughters of St. Paul as a united organization under the same name and the the same superior general, had also approved the specific charism of the Daughters of St. Paul: “The free and popular dissemination of Christian doctrine through schools and the catechesis, but especially through the press”.

In reality the Daughters of Pauline never ran schools, but realized the apostolate of the press to the full by becoming very active first in Italy - through the extensive and widespread door to door campaign - in the popular imagination, the memory is still alive of the nuns who went knocking door to door carrying large sacks filled with books - but also the foundation and management of Pauline book stores, which opened in just a few years in major Italian cities and aimed especially at disseminating books published by the Society of St. Paul. And credit for the world's best selling Catholic weekly, “Famiglia Cristiana” is owed to the creativity of the Daughters of St. Paul, although it was handed over to the Society of St. Paul as soon as his chances of success became apparent.

The fervent activity of these women religious soon extended internationally: offices were established in Argentina and Brazil (1931), the United States and France (1932), the Philippines (1938), again under the auspices of the Society of St. Paul. Here, too, the emancipation of women’s apostolate from the men’s took place at a later stage, after the Second World War: Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Japan (1948), Portugal (1950), India (1951), reaching 54 countries . There were countless initiatives: in Italy, the center Ut Unum Sint, to promote unity among Christians through theological correspondence courses, the foundation of magazines such as “Via”, “Volontà” and “Vita” but also “Il Giornalino”, the foundation of the St. Paul Catechetical Center and, in 1953, the first film club, while the founding of the women’s weekly “Così” dates back to 1953. Several initiatives first began in other countries: the radio apostolate began in Brazil in 1962, while film production was inaugurated in Japan, the United States and Brazil.

by Camilla Dacrema




St. Peter’s Square

Jan. 28, 2020