With an evangelizing spirit forged by their namesake St. Paul, the Daughters of St. Paul use whatever communication means possible to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ worldwide.
For the past 50 years, the sisters have planted and sowed the seeds of the Catholic faith in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. This milestone was marked April 7 with a Mass at St. Clement of Rome concelebrated by Archbishop Gregory Aymond, Archbishop Emeritus Alfred Hughes St. Benilde’s Father Robert Cooper and St. Clement’s pastor, Father Luis Rodriguez.
“This chance we have of celebrating this anniversary is to thank God for everything he has done through some courageous sisters who came here … during turbulent times of segregation and allowed him to be present to all people,” said Sister Tracey Dugas, local superior for the past six years.
She expressed gratitude at the Mass for “all of you who encouraged us and helped us carry out our mission of evangelization.”
(In picture above) Jesuit Father Syvester Tan, Sister Mary Martha Moss, Sister Tracey Dugas, Archbishop Gregory Aymond, Sister Gioan Linh Nguyen, Father Robert Cooper, Sister Mary Assumpta Catalucci and Sister Donna William Giaimo.
Archbishop Aymond thanked the Daughters for saying yes to consecrated life and following the Society of St. Paul founder, Blessed James Alberione, by promoting the works of the new evangelization for a half century in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
‘Fools’ for Christ
He suggested a spiritual meaning to the April Fools’ Day opening in 1968 of their Metairie bookstore, by using St. Paul’s words in his letter to the Corinthians, “We are fools for the sake of Christ. And, we must do anything with our great gifts to make Christ known and loved, even if that calls us to be foolish.”
“Nourished by God’s love and by their community vow, (the Daughters) were sent to preach and share the Gospel,” Archbishop Aymond said, living out St. Paul’s spirit using current-day means of evangelization such as their website, e-books, apps, book fairs, book displays for children throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
Living, evangelizing faith
The Daughters of St. Paul, founded in 1915 in Italy, came to the United States in 1932. They landed in Louisiana in 1952 in Alexandria, upon invitation of Bishop Charles Pascal Greco.
The nuns went door-to-door evangelizing throughout northern Louisiana. They had many doors slammed in their faces and were even called names because they helped poor blacks in the area during segregation, Sister Tracey said, but they forged on and opened a bookstore.
“While the building was being built, it was built in the hope that the faith would grow,” Sister Tracey said. “It was the faith of the people” who made it possible.
Their evangelization led them to Baton Rouge and New Orleans, where they were warmly welcomed.
Upon the invitation of Archbishop Philip Hannan, two Daughters of St. Paul moved to Metairie, an area he said was growing with families. They secured land on Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Metairie, owned by a Catholic, to build their new home and book center. Architect Robert Sprague donated his design services.
“The man (Archbishop Hannan) was a prophet,” recalled former local superior Pauline Sister Mary David in the “Reflections on Pilgrimage,” which chronicles the Daughters of St. Paul from 1952-93.
Those first two nuns went door to door, in the heat, with bags of books. “But, that was St. Paul,” Sister Tracey said. “He would have gone out to meet the people. … I found it very interesting that we put the presence of God in the midst of secular culture (on Veterans Highway before Clearview Mall was built) – do whatever it took to put God in those places where people were, be a part of where we would uplift people.”
The current four sisters in Metairie – Sister Tracey, Sister Benedicta Turner, Sister Gioan Linh Nguyen and Sister Mary Assumpta Catalucci – have ministries of encounters that include managing the bookstore, parish missions, talks and concerts (locally and nationwide), being on radio, social media, hosting book fairs in parishes and schools and more.
Their jobs entail menial tasks faced by all working people – meeting budgets, trying to make work more efficient and reaching beyond set goals and expectations – coupled with constant prayer. Sister Mary Martha Moss, originally from Houma, will become local superior at the end of May, and Sister Tracey will move to San Antonio.
“The founder left the mission open to use modern means of communication,” she said. “It’s all a work of God to make sure the seeds are there ready to be found.”
Inspired as a seminarian
Blessed Alberione was ahead of his time in describing his order as the wheel of a bike where the center is Jesus present in the word and Eucharist, and from the center the spokes – the sisters’ work – reach beyond the walls of the book center. Their foundress is Mother Tesla Merlo.
“Our founder said the sisters need to take Jesus everywhere,” Sister Tracey said, to communicate the person of Jesus not just by words but by being the light of Jesus shining within each sister, so people would be touched by their presence.
“It’s anything we can do to make the word of God accessible to people,” Sister Tracey said.
Knowing that a physical presence is limited to the number of sisters – 140 in the United States and 2,500 worldwide – social media will be the future vehicle to reach large numbers of people, as will traveling with outreaches such as the recent Daughters’ Christmas concert. (A repeat is scheduled in 2018.)
The Daughters of St. Paul will soon launch an online faith community called “My Sisters,” where nuns serve as spiritual life mentors and advisors and offer online retreats and podcasts, interact one-on-one with people and pray for intentions.
Sister Tracey thinks this site will combine the effective ways the sisters communicate in one central location.
“I feel like the Lord wants to involve more people in the new evangelization,” she said.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.