The secular world is on full display outside Pauline Books and Media Center, whose front doors face a busy stretch of Veterans Memorial Boulevard across from Clearview Shopping Center.
But step inside and the sounds of traffic fade, and every Wednesday at noon, visitors can attend Mass in the media center’s newly renovated chapel.
“I just love it in here,” said Carolyn Held, as she exited the Oct. 24 Mass celebrated by the day’s guest priest, Father Joseph Palermo. “I love Mass anywhere, but it is special to be here in the little chapel, with the sisters, in the middle of the day. And it’s not just because it’s so close to my house – I would come here even if I lived farther away.”
Held, a retired St. Benilde religion and CCD teacher, has been coming to the bookstore since the early 1980s. “It’s the sisters,” she said. “They’re always ready to pray for you. They’re always great to talk to if you have a problem.”
Midday opportunity returns
Noon Masses, celebrated at the bookstore a few times each week throughout the 1990s, resumed last June following the site’s complete renovation as one 15 North American retail centers operated by the Daughters of St. Paul.
Despite its day-to-day operation as a full-service media center offering books, DVDs, religious items and other materials of interest to Catholics, Pauline Sister Tracey Mathia Dugas said the Mass was reinstated by the sisters to renew the idea of the location as a spiritual hub engaged in her congregation’s mission of evangelization through all means of communication, which also encompasses retreats, spiritual direction and sacramental opportunities.
“The center is not just a bookstore, where you just come and buy products, but it’s where you experience the Word of God in his person, in the Word, in the sacraments, and in us,” Sister Tracey, pointing to her community’s emblem: Scripture superimposed onto a radio tower and a reel of film.
The emblem also carries St. Paul’s comment, “It’s according to my Gospel,” meaning, Sister Tracey said, “We can’t give what we don’t live.”
The Masses, whose congregants number between 15 to 22 people each Wednesday, are celebrated by priests from across the Archdiocese of New Orleans who are invited by the sisters. Worshipers sit on cushioned chairs fronted by individual kneelers. They are aided in prayer by stained glass windows, brass stations of the cross and a carved ambo. The stone wall of the sanctuary holds the chapel’s rustic tabernacle.
“We invite the priests to have lunch with the sisters afterward. Sometimes they can, sometimes they can’t; it depends on how tight their schedule is,” Sister Tracey said. “It’s a great way for us to get to know them and for them to get to know us on a more relaxed level. We kind of found out that they are encouraged to come because the food is good!”
Sisters sole residents of Vets
Founded in Italy, the Daughters of St. Paul came to North America in 1932, setting up their Metairie base in 1969. It was one of the first businesses to set up shop on Veterans Memorial Boulevard, Sister Tracey said.
“And we’re still the only (overnight) residents of Veterans Boulevard,” said Sister Tracey, whose convent is located above the store. The local community currently has four professed religious. In addition to Sister Tracey, they are Sister Laura Brown, Sister Julia Mary Darrenkamp and Sister Alice Marie Maloney. A novice, Sister Jackie Gitonga, currently is in residence doing her compulsory four months of apostolic work away from the Pauline Sisters’ Boston motherhouse.
The store has undergone several facelifts over the years, the most substantial of which begun last January. The sisters raised the bulk of the funds through small donations and sales of their hand-beaded rosary bracelets, and much of the labor was donated or provided at cost by local contractor Sal Esposito. The sisters requested – and received – several solid-oak bookshelves from the closing Borders Bookstore in Metairie. The marble countertop at the checkout and two display cases were donated by an out-of-business jewelry store.
Although the chapel has been a part of the media center since its 1969 opening, many visitors didn’t know it existed because the entrance was obscured by store displays, Sister Tracey said. Now the chapel doors are among the first features visitors see, eliciting gasps from first-time visitors and those who haven’t visited recently.
“The sisters spent a good three years listening – asking people, especially those who knew our mission – ‘How can we extend our mission to you and to those who need it?’” Sister Tracey said. “They responded that they wanted to see what the sisters did every day so they could fortify their own faith. The sisters realized (members of the Catholic laity) just wanted to hang out. They wanted to learn the tradition of the faith, with that presence of the sisters. They said, ‘We want more time with you.’”
The sisters initially started raising funds expressly for the chapel’s renovation, “the Holy Spirit had a different idea” and the project was expanded to include the retail space, said Sister Tracey of the overhaul completed last Easter. “People would come in and say, ‘Don’t worry. After Katrina my house was a mess for four years,” she laughed. “But in the middle of all that chaos the store was becoming beautiful.”
Throughout the renovation period, the chapel continued to offer eucharistic adoration on Thursdays during store hours. The media center is open Tuesday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sister Tracey said the sisters hope to launch Monday hours in the near future and are raising funds for Phase II of the renovation, which will include turning a storeroom into a small media conference room, and making the spiritual direction room more conducive to large gatherings.
Uncluttering a space
Sister Tracey said she and her fellow sisters are thrilled about how the renovation has made Pauline Books and Media a brighter and more welcoming space for their packed calendar of on-site events, which include book groups, retreats, talks and children’s programming.
“We are in the service of the leadership in the church – your average CCD teacher, your youth and young adult leader, your small group leader – all the way to priests and bishops,” Sister Tracey said of the center’s service outreach. “And parents – they’re great leaders of the faith. It’s to give them the resources they need to do their job.”
Expertise on tap
Given their mission of evangelization, Pauline Sisters do a lot of traveling to speak at conferences around the world and to offer related books and DVDs. They also are available to help retreat coordinators locate resources, and to assist teachers in the coordination of faith-related book fairs. Sister Tracey, who recently presented a talk called “Faith Formation for a Media Generation” at a conference in Pensacola, Fla., is an expert on “using media as a medium to talk about faith.”
“We talk about values and try to find them in current movies – so you’re asking questions, and you’re bringing your faith into your looking at media and how you’re responding to media,” she explained. With this in mind, the book center will launch a book club for young adults Nov. 10 focusing on its first title – “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins.
The sisters will begin their next retreat – “Thirty-Three Days to Morning Glory,” based on the book by Father Michael E. Gaitley – on Nov. 8 and roll it out over the ensuing weeks to prepare participants for the Marian feast days of Dec. 12 and Jan. 8.
Lifting up the local Pauline Sisters are the people of Louisiana, noted Sister Tracey, a St. Martinville native who left Louisiana at age 19 for her religious formation before returning to her home state last year.
“There is something special about the people here and what they feel for religious sisters, unlike any place I’ve ever been,” she said. “It’s something in the root system that is so deep and heartfelt. It just motivates us; it puts a fire under us.”
For more information, call 887-7631 or visit http://visit.pauline.org/metairie.
Beth Donze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.