Under the loving insistence of Blessed James Alberione, the Congregation of the Daughters of St Paul was born in June 1915 in Alba, Italy, without a name, without anyone’s notice, nor even a house to call their own. It all started with a group of young women who opened their “first press” by sewing shirts for the military during the very difficult years of the First World War. The Congregation will soon reach one hundred years from that humble beginning.
When the First World War ended, the young women abandoned sewing shirts and took on the apostolate of the printing press. Their first assignment was in Susa, a little village where they took charge of printing the Diocesan Newspaper, “La Valsusa”. This was a major breakthrough for these women, and an opportunity which boosted their confidence and strengthened their faith in God, while giving them profound lessons in collaboration. Their simplicity of life, their witness of joy and dedication to St Paul which was seen by the inhabitants of this village earned them the name “Daughters of St Paul”. They were no longer unnoticed!
After the experience in Susa, some major developments marked their lives. The young women made their religious profession on 22nd July 1922 hence giving them a certainty of carrying out their mission. On 15th March 1929, they were approved by Bishop Re, Bishop of Alba. On 15th March 1953, the Congregation was erected as an Institute of Pontifical Right and its Constitutions received final approval.
Beginning in 1926, the Daughters of St Paul ventured out of Italy with Blessed James Alberione’s prayers and sacrifices, and began their expansion beyond Italy into other countries. This expansion opened the hearts of the Sisters to the world and gave them a deeper sense of belonging.
The movement out into other countries from 1948 to 1956 gave the Congregation a global sense when communities were opened in Japan, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Portugal, Canada, India, Great Britain, Australia, and Venezuela… new apostolic initiatives in book publications, catechetical magazines, a house for writers and central offices for publications were all put into place. New means were used to reach people: the cinema, radio and audio cassettes.
In 1957, the yearning of the Daughters of St Paul to set foot in vast Africa was realised. The first country was Congo (DRC) in 1957. After six years in Congo, the gaze of the sisters was turned to Uganda: the land of the Martyrs which welcomed them in 1964. Three years later in 1967, Mozambique opened its doors for the Pauline presence and mission.
The story of expansion did not stop here but, following the words of Sister Thecla Merlo who said, “Let us dedicate our footsteps to the Gospel, may it race ahead and spread,” Tanzania received the Daughters in 1970 and Kenya in 1976. The Island of Madagascar, with its warm-hearted people, opened its doors to Pauline mission in 1983.
In 1994, celebrating the centenary of the birth of Sister Thecla Merlo, a missionary project was launched and its fruits were evident in the missionary outposts that were born in Zambia, Angola, Nigeria, South Africa and the Ivory Coast. Recently the 21st century saw Equatorial Guinea and Sudan embracing the Daughters of St Paul.
The Word of God meets people in over 50 nations through this Pauline ministry and yet it cannot be said to have been totally accomplished. The gaze of the Sisters is fixed on the world that is awaiting the message of Christ and thus the challenge is this exaltation of Blessed James Alberione, “Woman is on the move, and it’s a wonderful thing, a true gift of the Holy Spirit that a sister is associated with the priestly zeal. The Daughter of St Paul is according to her mission raised to a dignity and activity which cannot have further heights.”
He continues, “You have reached all continents: as you pass from one country to another, fly over mountains, or plough the ocean waves, you do not speak of what has been done. Ever onwards, Daughters of St Paul, bringing the truth with charity. I think of you, hundreds of thousands…on your way towards holiness. You live in the world but you are not of the world. Bearers of Christ, living members and workers of the Church…Forward! Bring truth in charity.”