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.”
DAUGHTERS OF ST PAUL IN KENYA (1976)
When the Daughters of St Paul arrived in Africa, they were young, full of enthusiasm and zeal, and eager to fulfil their mission of bringing the Good News of Salvation to the people of Africa by the means of social communication. The difficulties in front of them did not alarm them. They had the promise of the Lord, Do not be afraid! I am with you always, until the end of the age (Cf. Mt 28:10.20). The first Sisters were few in number but with extraordinary passion to bring the Word of God to the people, with no financial resources except their work, no friends to rely on, not much missionary experience, poor knowledge of the languages, and plenty of day-to-day worries.
The Sisters in Uganda often came to Nairobi for one reason or another, and during each trip they would stop by to greet the then Archbishop of Nairobi, Maurice Michael Cardinal Otunga. Being very kind and thankful for the Sisters’ work, he would every time and unfailingly ask the Sisters, “Do come and run my bookshop in Nairobi! You accepted to go to Kampala, and accepted the invitation of Cardinal Rugambwa to run his bookshop in Dar es Salaam, so, why do you not come to Nairobi?” Although the Sisters were very few, there came a time when they could no longer refuse the Cardinal’s plea. The General government in 1975 approved the opening of the house, and on the 15th February 1976, the diocesan bookshop was handed over to the Sisters.
Currently, the Daughters of St Paul are present in twelve countries of the African continent. Still burning with the missionary zeal of St Paul the Apostle, they hope, in the near future, to open communities in Cameroon, Ghana, Ethiopia, and other countries of Africa.
The gaze of the Sisters remains fixed on the world that is awaiting the message of Christ, and taking seriously the challenge 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.”
DAUGHTERS OF ST PAUL IN TANZANIA (1970)
During the Second Vatican Council, and immediately after, many bishops and cardinals visited our Generalate to express their desire to have book centres established in their dioceses. In 1970, the late Cardinal Rugambwa of Tanzania, while visiting the Generalate, personally expressed, “I will not move from here till you have signed the agreement to send at least Sisters for my bookshop.” And on the 20th September, 1970 the first two Sisters left for Dar es Salaam. The Sisters worked tirelessly despite the hard conditions. This was the foundation of yet another community in East Africa. Over the years, our presence in Tanzania has borne fruit. We have vocations from Tanzania. Many people have been blessed by the life witness and apostolic service offered to them by the Sisters. A recent achievement we thank the Lord for, is the launching of the Biblia ya Kiafrika which took place in March 2010.
DAUGHTERS OF ST PAUL IN UGANDA (1964)
The presence of the Daughters of St Paul in East Africa began in Uganda. The history of this presence is tightly interwoven with the events that took place in the country in the early 60s. At that time the people in Uganda would rather go hungry than not have literature to read. The bishops saw a great need to open a book centre where inspiring materials for growth in Faith would be found. The Church in Uganda prepared the ground, and on 2nd February 1964, the first Daughters of St Paul arrived. Arrangements were made for them to take over the book centre, and in June 1964 the book centre was inaugurated.
The community of the Daughters of St Paul in Uganda has grown since then. Presently the Sisters have the book centre, Paulines Book and Media Centre, along Kampala Road. It is from here that they offer their witness and service to the people of Uganda. They present book exhibitions in schools, institutions, parishes, and any place or event that offers an opportunity to bring the Word of God to the people. They also have a radio apostolate: they prepare programmes that are aired on Radio Maria, an archdiocesan radio station.
There is a formation house situated in Nakasero, Kyadondo Road. Here women who would like to become Daughters of St Paul begin their journey of formation into religious life. At the formation house, these women already are learning what it means to make use of the means of social communications to better understand the mission of the life they desire to embrace. They print small booklets and produce audio visual materials. During this formation time they go out with the Sisters to assist in the propaganda (book exhibitions).
Many people within Kampala and in the neighbouring dioceses and towns have had access to Pauline books and other materials because our Sisters are in this Book and Media Centre. Our Founder, Blessed Alberione, always reminded us that our “boundaries are the boundaries of the world.” The Sisters were encouraged to go beyond the boundaries of Uganda and from there they ventured into Rwanda.
DAUGHTERS OF ST PAUL IN SUDAN (2008)
The 21st century saw Sudan embracing the Daughters of St Paul. This community was first opened on 25th January 2008, on the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul. The presence of the Daughters of St Paul in Sudan was a long-awaited response to a request by the Church of Sudan. The people of Sudan were in dire need of spiritual and moral support. “It is my prayer and hope that very soon, thanks to the help of Divine Providence, the Daughters of St Paul will be able to establish a community in Juba and to minister to the people of Sudan,” Rt Rev Paolino Lukudu Loro, Archbishop of Juba had said. At the moment, the young, vibrant community of the Daughters of St Paul lives in a rented house in Juba. The Archbishop is also renting to them a Catholic Bookshop situated near the Cathedral of Juba.
DAUGHTERS OF ST PAUL IN LAGOS (1964/1994)
At the invitation of Msgr Sergio Pignedoli, then Apostolic Delegate in Nigeria, the Daughters of St Paul arrived in Lagos on 15th October 1964. At that time the bishop of Lagos joyfully welcomed them. All the bishops were happy with the Sisters’ presence and would have loved to have them in their dioceses. The apostolate in Nigeria was so dynamic that in two years of their arrival, the Daughters of St Paul would say, “All make use of our bookshop as manna from Heaven: from the North to the South of Nigeria, from the highest ecclesiastical authority to the furthest missionary. Here, they have understood well the spirit of our Congregation, and its face shines so brightly that it covers our limits and weaknesses.” A small group of Pauline Cooperators help in diffusing the books in Lagos and other centres. Due to political reasons, the Sisters had to leave Nigeria, but happily they returned a second time in 1994.
DAUGHTERS OF ST PAUL IN ABUJA
A second community was opened in 2005 in Abuja.