One of the unexpected surprises during my time at the Courage Conference at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland this past weekend was a delightful conversation with three Daughters of St. Paul sisters over lunch. They were helping out with the audio and visual needs of the conference, and they had a splendid book and DVD display in the commons area of the auditorium.
I was struck by their friendliness, joy, confidence and faith during my conversation with them. They didn’t know me, except as a deacon, but the conversed with ease and eagerly shared with me the history of their congregation, and the story of their founder, Fr. James Alberione from Italy.
Log on to www.daughtersofstpaul.com to view their website. Take a look. It is a treat.
Fr. Alberione was born on April 4, 1888 and died on November 26, 1971. On June 25, 1996, Pope John Paul II signed a decree recognizing the heroic virtues of Alberione. Here is what the Vatican’s website says about him, in part:
Fr. James Alberione, Founder of the Pauline Family, was one of the most creative apostles of the 20th century. He was born in San Lorenzo di Fossano (Cuneo), Italy, on 4 April 1884 and baptized the following day. The profoundly Christian and hard-working Alberione family, made up of Michael and Teresa Allocco and their six children, were farmers.
Little James, the fourth child of the family, felt the call of God early in life. When questioned by his first-grade teacher as to what he wanted to be when he grew up, he replied, “I want to be a priest!”. His childhood years were directed to this goal.
He came to understand that the Lord was guiding him toward a new mission: to preach the Gospel to all peoples, in the spirit of the Apostle Paul, using the modern instruments of communication. This is confirmed by two books he wrote: Notes on Pastoral Theology (1912) and Woman Associated to Priestly Zeal (1911-1915).
For the sake of charism and continuity, such a mission needed to be carried out by consecrated persons because “the works of God are performed by men and women of God.” Thus, on 20 August 1914, while Pope Pius X lay dying in Rome, Fr. Alberione initiated the Pauline Family in Alba by founding the Pious Society of St. Paul. The Institute was born in utter poverty, according to the divine pedagogy: “always begin from Bethlehem.”
The human family—to which Fr. Alberione turned for inspiration—is made up of brothers and sisters. The first woman to follow Fr. Alberione was 21-year-old Teresa Merlo from Castagnito (Cuneo). With her help, Fr. Alberione began a second Congregation in 1915: the Daughters of St. Paul. Slowly the “Family” grew, both masculine and feminine vocations increased, and the apostolate began to take shape.
In December 1918, his first “daughters” left for Susa, where the work they initiated forms part of the courageous story of faith and enterprise that gave rise to what came to be called the “Pauline” lifestyle. But progress came to an abrupt halt in 1923 when Fr. Alberione fell gravely ill and the doctors despaired of his recovery. However the Founder was able to miraculously resume his journey, later saying, “St. Paul healed me.” During that period, the words Fr. Alberione had received in a dream or revelation from the Divine Master were first inscribed on the walls of the Family’s chapels: “Do not be afraid. I am with you. From here I want to enlighten. Be sorry for sin.”
The following year, a second feminine Congregation came into being: the Pious Disciples of the Divine Master, whose members would carry out the Eucharistic, priestly and liturgical apostolate. To guide this Institute, Fr. Alberione chose the young Sr. M. Scholastica Rivata, who died at the age of 90 in a state of holiness.
In October 1938, Fr. Alberione founded a third feminine Congregation: the Sisters of Jesus the Good Shepherd or “Pastorelle Sisters,” to assist parish priests in their work.
From 1962-1965, Fr. Alberione was a silent but attentive protagonist in Vatican Council II, attending its sessions daily. But at the same time troubles and sufferings were not lacking: the premature deaths of his first collaborators, Timothy Giaccardo and Thecla Merlo; worry for the Pauline communities abroad that were going through difficulties and, on the personal level, an excruciatingly painful condition of scoliosis that tormented him day and night.
Fr. Alberione lived to the age of 87. Having completed the work God had entrusted to him, he left this earth on 26 November 1971 to take his place in the house of the Father. In his last hours, he was comforted by the visit and blessing of Pope Paul VI, who had never hidden his admiration and veneration for the Founder.