Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Venerable Mother Thecla, 50th Anniversary

Today is the 50th anniversary of the death of Ven. Mother Thecla Merlo, co-foundress of the Daughters of St. Paul and mother of the whole Pauline Family.

I didn't really know anything about Mother Thecla (in house we call her "Prima Maestra Thecla"--as in "our first teacher/guide") when I first entered the Daughters of St Paul. I heard about her from sisters for whom she was still an affectionate presence, but even so I didn't quite appreciate her or the role she played in the Pauline Family as the primary feminine collaborator of Blessed James Alberione. (This despite the fact that Blessed James himself testified to her holiness--he had been her spiritual director for 50 years!--and got her cause for canonization started.)

Then I read a collection of spiritual writings by the Servant of God Isaac Hecker, founder of the Paulists. This American spiritual giant, as devoted a follower of St. Paul as Alberione was, how was it that he left no women disciples to carry on his work? Why are there no feminine Paulists? Surely the America of the nineteenth century, the America of Luisa May Alcott and Harriet Beecher Stowe, had some Catholic women who would have shared Hecker's vision and collaborated in his mission! And yet Hecker never found her.

All along, I had unthinkingly assumed that if Alberione had not met the frail young Merlo, someone else would have done the job. Hecker disabused me of that notion. He looked far and wide for a woman like that, and to this day there are no "lady Paulists" (though the Paulists have a wonderful lay associates community).

My unappreciative evaluation of Mother Thecla goes well with today's Gospel, in which the neighbors of Nazareth write off "the carpenter's son" as just too ordinary to be all that the people in the other villages say he is. Later in the Gospels, we find some of Jesus' relatives coming around. They didn't cling to their dismissive opinion, but let the facts speak for themselves. I'm glad I "came around" to appreciate our "Prima Maestra," too--and now I pray for her intercession on a daily basis!

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