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KOTA KINABALU – The Daughters of St Paul here marked the centenary of foundation with an opening Mass presided by Father Mitchelly Kiun on 3 Feb 2015.
The opening Mass in Manila was celebrated on Feb 5, the 51st death anniversary of Venerable Thecla Merlo, co-Foundress of the institute.
“Our Centenary offers us the opportunity to celebrate the memory of the marvels the Lord continues to work through our poverty and littleness,” says Sr Anna Maria Parenzan, Superior General. “In keeping with the invitation of the Founder, who always pointed us towards vast horizons, we are striving to bring everyone the Gospel of joy and peace through the various forms and languages of communications. We speak the language the Spirit has placed on our lips and in our hearts through the charism he bestowed on us.”
100 years of Daughters of St Paul
Blessed James Alberione (April 4, 1884-November 26, 1971) had a unique inspiration as a young seminarian in Alba, Italy. Following the call of Pope Leo XIII to pray for the 20th century that was beset by the aggressiveness of modernists and liberalists who used the power of the press in spreading their secular and anti-Church ideas, young Alberione spent four hours in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament exposed at the Cathedral of Alba during the night of December 31, 1900 – January 1, 1901. Later on, as a young priest, he began the Pauline Family by first founding the Society of St Paul on August 20, 1914. Placed under the patronage of St Paul who, through his writings, nurtured the Christian faith that he preached in various places, this congregation for priests and brothers was to be, for Alberione, “St Paul alive today” in the culture of communications.
On June 27, 1915, James Alberione met Teresa Merlo in the church of Sts Cosmas and Damian. The meeting was arranged by her brother, who was then a seminarian, and Teresa came with her mother. Fr Alberione had already heard of Teresa’s desire to be a religious. He invited her to join the group of young women he was forming at Alba with the aim of one day founding a feminine congregation dedicated to the apostolate of the press. This community would complement the Society of St Paul. Alberione told Teresa and the young women that they would first work in the sewing shop, but they would form a congregation of Sisters who would work with the good press.
In 1918, Teresa and her group of women were invited by Fr Alberione to move to the small city of Susa and take charge of the diocesan newspaper. They were to manage and print the paper; they would learn the typographical skills from their brothers in the Society of St Paul. The women named their little workshop the “St Paul Typography” and placed it under the great Apostle’s patronage. People in Susa became aware of the strong bond between Teresa and her group of women, with St Paul whom they trusted for everything and whom they took as the model form their life and work. Soon the people in Susa started calling the group ”Daughters of St Paul.”
Four years later, the first nine members of the Daughters of St Paul were allowed to make their perpetual profession of religious vows. The women received the title Maestra, in honor of Jesus the Master. Teresa Merlo, 28 years old, took the name Thecla, in honor of St Thecla whom tradition regards as an early woman follower of Paul the Apostle. Maestra Thecla Merlo was appointed Superior General of the new community. But this development also led to difficulties with society and with the Church’s hierarchy. It was never thought about then that women would operate printing presses and publish books and newspapers!
However, with great vision and trust in God’s will for this new form of apostolate in the press, the group continued to grow and develop. In 1928, the women were allowed to wear religious habit and they opened their first branch houses in Salerno, Bari, and Verona, Italy. In the next four years, under Mother Thecla’s guidance, the fledgling community expanded to 25 communities all over Italy. New foundations also began in Brazil, Argentina, and the United States.
Mother Thecla remained Mother General until her death in 1964. She was fondly called “Prima Maestra”. During her lifetime, she traveled around the world, and under her direction the Daughters of St Paul established themselves in every continent. She said, “How many people there are in the world who do not know and love the Lord! Apostles are needed-but genuine apostles whose hearts are filled with love for God…Our apostolate is participation in the apostolate of Jesus.”