Pope Francis received a formal recommendation to declare St. Irenaeus of Lyon a doctor of…
In a changing Church, Paulines are ‘on the move’
A few weeks ago, the Daughters of St. Paul announced a new strategic plan for the order’s life and mission in its U.S. and Canada province. These sorts of changes are being addressed with growing frequency within the Church as dioceses, schools, religious congregations, apostolates and other ecclesial institutions continue to wrestle with shifting demographics and fewer resources. While some plans reckoning with the Church’s present and anticipating its future can look more like white flags, the Daughters of St. Paul’s announcement comes with a certain hopeful zeal that shows not all change is bad — and can even be good.
Founded just over a century ago in Italy by the visionary and prophetic Blessed James Alberione, the Daughters of St. Paul have the unique mission of evangelization through the media. Known for their publishing house and bookstores, the Paulines, like any religious community working for the good of the Church and the world, must read the signs of the times in order to carry out their mission effectively. In a rapidly changing culture, they have found that their mission needed to be retooled to provide an adequate response. After a recent conversation with a few of the nuns — Sister Donald Maria Lynch, provincial, and Sisters Tracey Matthia Dugas and Jackie Jean-Marie Gitonga, two others helping to steer the reorganization of their apostolate — it became apparent that the Daughters of St. Paul have something to teach the Church in an era of change.
Pruning for growth
While the reorganization of their mission means the closure of four convents and three bookstores, the Daughters of St. Paul are hopeful that these changes translate into opportunities for growth.
The Pauline charism is, as Sister Donald Maria sums it up, “bringing Christ, bringing the Gospel to the people of today, and to bring it using the most effective means, so that we can reach as many people as possible, as impactfully as possible.” With fewer physical locations to maintain, the sisters can refocus their resources, allowing greater flexibility to expand their reach. In order to do this, the Paulines are planning to revamp their remaining bookstores into centers for evangelization, which will offer, aside from print materials, opportunities for catechesis and faith formation, sister-led retreats, parish missions and spiritual accompaniment.
And while the sisters have embraced new means of communication and new forms of media, specifically social media and a few other online platforms, Sister Donald Maria noted that the sisters have discerned they have not “embraced it as fully as we could or should for the future.” Sister Jackie Jean-Marie pointed out that social media engagement “is the place to be” for Paulines. “We can be a witness that we can use these means of our time and still lead a life that is holy.”
More effective in mission
Sister Jackie Jean-Marie stressed that the greatest focus on mission is to bring others into a relationship with Christ. “We want to use the most effective means, because everybody needs to meet this Christ who brings the fullness of life.” Following in the footsteps of St. Paul, she added, “we apply all our energy and continually move forward to achieve this end.”
The Paulines have branded the reconfigurement of their mission with the catchphrase “#OnTheMove.” Not only does the phrase relate to their patron St. Paul’s itinerant evangelization, but it relates to the sisters’ need to be flexible in responding to the demands of the society and culture in proclaiming the Gospel. “God is constantly moving us toward himself,” Sister Tracey Matthia said. “It’s a constant theme in Scripture. And for us as missionaries, he’s always calling us to move with him and to, in a sense, be a sign to others that, in our faith, God is always moving us through time, through our daily lives, but toward himself. We have a goal, and that goal is heaven.”
Maintaining the structures they had in place meant that fewer sisters were living together, which comes with its own disadvantages. Having larger groups of sisters living together will provide greater opportunities for new energy and focus in their mission, they said. It also will enable the sisters to expand their reach beyond their physical locations and increase their online and in-person presence throughout the United States and Canada.
Opportunity for hope
The Paulines’ reorganization of mission has involved all of the sisters in the province in a process of communal discernment. But while the needs have been identified, the means have not been decided completely. One possible aspect for future growth of the Pauline mission, according to Sister Tracey Matthia, is to focus on Blessed Alberione’s hopes for greater collaboration with the laity. “Unless we collaborate and work together, we apply the Gospel only to certain parts of the culture,” she said.
Sister Donald Maria noted that when the Pauline mission was predominantly moved online during the pandemic, many more young women were encountered and accompanied by Paulines for vocational discernment. “There is a lot of potential with online presence, because this is where people are spending their time,” Sister Jackie Jean-Marie added.
As dioceses, parishes and schools face similar challenges regarding mission and trajectory of vision within a changing Church, Sister Donald Maria hopes that the Paulines can offer encouragement for and collaboration with online ministry. Sister Tracey Matthia stressed the importance of the witness of sanctity in today’s world. “All that we do needs to be centered on living the Gospel so that we can effectively communicate it,” she said.
“Hopefulness comes because God is doing new things,” Sister Jackie Jean-Marie said. “We want to be able to be attentive in the pruning and in the fruitfulness that shows he is truly present in us. That’s the great hope, and also the joy, that we are moving toward even more fullness of life.”
Michael R. Heinlein is editor of OSV’s Simply Catholic. He writes from Indiana.