APROPOS THE PRIMA MAESTRA OF THE DAUGHTERS OF SAINT PAUL
The secretary of Fr Alberione, Fr Antonio Speciale, states in his Diary (unpublished) for Ash Wednesday, 14 April 1954:
[Primo Maestro:] Celebrates early, as usual in the Crypt and, at about 5:15, goes to the Chapel of the General House to wait for the Priests of the same house, to tell them to make their meditation by themselves in the Chapel.
The P.M. stays there until 7:30, attending two Masses which this morning have the ‘Passion’ as the gospel reading.
Leaving the Chapel he goes up to his room and writes an article on the three Congregations for women for the Pauline Family memoirs, which will later be published as Abundantes divitiæ gratiæ suæ, but he dwells [now] above all on the vocation of Prima Maestra Thecla Merlo (FSP) and on her good work.
[…] (The original, written in his own hand, is in the general Archives, with the date in our handwriting; I have a photocopy of the original and the typewritten texts; the original is on three large-size sheets; the typewritten text, corrected also by the P.M. and with a few final words of M. Ignazia Balla, is on two letterhead sheets of the G[eneral] H[ouse] – large size. N.° 1545.
There are three drafts of this text: Fr Alberione’s handwritten text, with numerous corrections and additions; a typewritten text, also with numerous corrections and additions; and a third, definitive, printed in Mi protendo in avanti (pp. 408-410), which we reproduce here.
It opens with the following Preface: In July 1922 Primo Maestro gathered the senior Daughters of Saint Paul of the houses of Alba and Susa for the annual retreat. At its conclusion, he invited them to make a private profession of perpetual religious vows. (…) On this occasion he appointed as Prima Maestra of the Daughters of Saint Paul, Teresa Merlo [1894-1964] who, at profession, had also assumed the name Thecla. Questioned recently on this felicitous initial choice, the Venerable Founder spoke to us of these events and his presentday feelings.
[Handwritten and typewritten drafts omitted] 225-239
He had shared and submitted his idea of forming a religious Family for women, side by side with the one he had just begun for men. People suggested some good ladies, but he did not know them very well, and they were no longer very young. He soon became aware, and this was true for both the first and the second Family, that some people who entered had not the vocation for true religious life; yet this was the most essential thing! Understanding and love for the specific apostolate would come about little by little, if there was docility to the voice of God.
This concern lasted for several months… Then the clerics of the Seminary and those who already had links as spiritual cooperators, celebrated the month of May so that the Lord would provide for [this] religious Family.
At the end of the month he was told: At Castagnito d’Alba there is a young lady from a good family. With her piety, intelligence, docility and goodness she would do well… But there are two difficulties: she has poor health and she has only attended the local schools. Primo Maestro replied, Let her come. The Lord will provide her with sufficient health and the knowledge she needs for her office. When the Lord wants [something]…1
There were obstacles, but they were not insurmountable, thanks especially to the help of the then cleric, and now the pastor and canon of Barolo, [Costanzo] the brother of the young lady who is now the Prima Maestra of the Daughters of Saint Paul. Things moved in such a way that the hand of God could clearly be seen.
She entered, and as her first act fell sick. But she had already aroused in everyone an almost reverential esteem. Then we made a pledge with the Lord, the one that is in the Pact or Secret of Success, the one that was helpful on major occasions and for major necessities.
Some continued to object: She will give all she has, but she will give very little to the new Family, if she doesn’t end up a burden on account of her illhealth. But we always renewed the Pact... and the whole outcome showed how the Lord was working and goes on working in an almost imperceptible but effective way; and that goodness and prudent judgment outweigh physical strength and knowledge.
The Family of the Daughters of Saint Paul had, initially, quite a few rough moments... But everything helped to win for Teresa, as everyone called her, the affection of the Daughters and general esteem: so much so that when, one day – following the withdrawal of those who did not have a true religious vocation – it was announced to the already many young women present that Teresa had been chosen as superior, there was unanimous assent.
Her progress in piety, in the religious life, in docility, and in her love for the Institute, for the apostolate and for souls just kept on increasing.
The work she has to undertake today would be excessive even for a physically strong person: [it is] all a gift of God.
She was a constant help to Primo Maestro:
1) In training the Daughters of Saint Paul properly: they began practically from zero and have achieved a spiritual, intellectual and apostolic formation universally cherished and operative: in simplicity, [with a] supernatural spirit and quickness.
2) In starting them off in their specific apostolate: an unusual one for that time and difficult according to human reasoning; yet, under her guidance, the time arrived to train writers and lecturers, and personnel for the technical and distribution sectors, and those assigned to the cinema and the radio.
3) In surmounting the many thorny problems [that in] part depended on persons, in part on finance, and in part on misunderstandings, circumstances, illnesses, deaths, etc.
4) In establishing the Pious Disciples and the Pastorelle Sisters: she championed the birth, the growth and the approval of both Congregations; she supported and counseled them; she gave them financial help; she made sacrifices [for them] and has [earned] the gratitude and trust of both Families.
Her example and goodness are much more effective than her authority: she knows how to reconcile tenderness and resolve, prudence and strength. She was truly physically sustained by God and guided by supernatural light, as Primo Maestro ascertained on many trips to visit the houses.
It is thus that the Daughters of Saint Paul increase in number, houses and initiatives: and have spread to about twenty nations.
In [Prima Maestra] the Daughters of Saint Paul have a twofold book: the book of her daily life, first of all; and secondly, a printed book. This latter could be a collection of her practical and ongoing conferences to the Sisters, her many general and particular announcements, her writings published in the Regina Apostolorum circular, and so on. All in all, this could become a fine, goodsized book that would be a treasure for all the Daughters of Saint Paul, both now and in the future; now, especially for those faraway who barely manage to get to see her during her visits, and for those, especially the aspirants, who do not always manage to speak to her personally due to a lack of time.2
1 Thus, on 27 June 1915, Teresa Merlo joined the community of Saint Paul. She was born at Castagnito d’Alba in 1894 and became part of the very first group of the future Daughters of Saint Paul. She made her perpetual profession on 22.7.1922 and, on that occasion, the Founder ap-pointed her as “Prima Maestra” (Superior General) of the female commu-nity. She governed the Congregation of the Daughters of Saint Paul up to her death, which took place at Albano Laziale (Rome) on 5.2.1964.
2 In actual fact this book does exist. It was edited by Margherita BAVIERA FSP: TECLA MERLO, Un cuor solo un’anima sola. Conferenze - meditazioni 1954-1963, Edizioni Paoline 1993, pp. 765 (Abbreviation: CSAS).