the Sewing Room to the Publishing House
spirit, new forms.” This was the operative principle of the Venerable
Father James Alberione, Founder of the Daughters of St. Paul as he strove
to fulfill the mission entrusted to him by God. The ancient spirit was that
of the Gospel, of St. Paul, and of the best tradition of the Church. The new
forms were those suggested by human progress in the twentieth century: the
press, motion pictures, radio, television, that is the means of social communications.
With admirable determination and courage, but not without difficulty and criticism,
Fr. Alberione entered this field and gave it an authentic sense of apostolate.
Still a young
priest, he accepted the responsibility of directing a weekly newspaper Gazzetta
d’Alba which at present is still circulating. When the proper time came,
he founded the Typographical School which became the seed of the Society of
St. Paul and later the Daughters of St. Paul. A few years after he would found
a group of lay collaborators, and a bit later, three more religious institutes
and four aggregates.
In the beginning,
the Daughters of St. Paul were in the sewing room. The date is June 15, 1915.
In biblical language, the first members worked in the vineyard of the Lord
at the first hour in the morning. A few months earlier, Fr. Alberione had
just given life to the typographical school, gathering around himself innocent
protagonists who, according to him, were destined for a great adventure: to
print the word of God, Bibles, gospels, religious books, magazines, etc. And
like the boys, the women were promised the same.
The first Daughters
of St. Paul had no name, but they trusted every word of Fr. Alberione. The
shining future he promised them was at that time limited to a small room in
a house in Alba, the one formerly occupied by the boys, who transferred to
another place in search for a bit bigger space. The room had a name “Workshop
for Women” But theirs’ was a work which had nothing to do with
what had been said to them. They were sewing the clothes of the soldiers to
earn some stipend to contribute to the project of the Founder. And what they
knew about sewing was just more than mending socks. But Teresa Merlo, one
of the three women, had a golden hand for this. And Fr. Alberione had the
intuition that she too, had a golden heart.
The girls taught
catechism at San Damiano church and they opened a small store for books and
religious articles. Other girls started to join them. Three years after, in
1918, something unexpected took place. Fr. Alberione was asked by the Bishop
of Susa, Northern Italy, to take over the printing of the diocesan weekly
Val Susa, otherwise it would die. He accepted the offer but instead of sending
the boys who had little experience, he sent the women.
The leap form
the sewing room to the printing press was certainly not commensurate to the
women’s capacity, but it is said that for one to learn how to swim,
someone must give the push. And so it happened, with much sacrifice, but with
tremendous faith and generosity, those who went to Susa were able to continue
printing the diocesan weekly and other printing jobs were entrusted to them.
Meanwhile in Alba, the Founder invited other girls to be part of the same
In 1922, the
Founder recalled the two groups for a spiritual retreat and they pronounced
their private religious vows. Appointed as superior general was Sr. Teresa
Merlo, the woman with a golden hand for sewing and fortunately had a golden
heart for guiding others. The small group increased in number. The women worked
in the printing press of the Society of St. Paul and went about the families
spreading the good reading materials that were printed. Despite the fact that
the work was tiresome and the sisters had no habit, many girls asked to become
members. They wore their habit for the first time in 1928, with the dress
designed by the superior general. The institute received its pontifical approval
on March 15, 1953.
knew the capacity of women especially if associated with the priestly work.
He encouraged them not only to print and distribute books, but also to write.
They have the same apostolate as the first institute for men, the Society
of St. Paul. As the years progressed, the sisters took upon themselves the
various work in the field of social communications. Now scattered in 50 countries
all over the world, the Daughters of St. Paul work in the press, radio, television,
cinema and use other forms of audio-visual instruments in proclaiming the
word of God.