I was introduced to the Servant of God Teresa Merlo (1894-1964) when I was first discerning my vocation to religious life. Although she became the Co-foundress of the Daughters of St. Paul, initially her fragile health prevented her from pursuing her dream to become a sister. When she was 22, she met Blessed James Alberione, who invited her to help him with a new congregation of women who would evangelize with the media. Teresa Merlo eventually took the name “Thecla,” and she became the Co-foundress of the Daughters of St. Paul, collaborating tirelessly with our prolific founder, Alberione, becoming a fearless pioneer in communications—in fields previously reserved to men (printing, film, radio, TV), and then overseeing and personally assisting her sisters to start communities and communications centers all over the world.
If I could pick one word to describe the qualities of Venerable Mother Thecla Merlo, it would be motherly. Although she has not yet become well known, when she was alive and people asked her for help, her compassionate heart couldn’t turn anyone down.
And she didn’t turn me down, either. I started discerning my religious vocation when I was fifteen. At the time, the Daughters of Saint Paul had a high school program: while continuing with their high school studies, young women could discern and begin to share in the prayer life and mission of the sisters. I visited the high school in February, and I was both intrigued and inspired to see young women my own age enthusiastically preparing to live their call to religious life. After several more visits, prayer, and discernment, I decided to ask my parents for permission to enter the congregation at the end of the summer.
I was pretty nervous about it: I knew I was young, and my parents were protective of all of us kids; I’d only ever been allowed to go on one sleepover in my entire life! But somewhere along my discernment, I had moved from thinking, “That’s nice, maybe I’ll think about it after high school,” to “I don’t want to waste another day…I want to begin now to live God’s call for me!” I felt a great urgency—as only a teenager can, but an urgency I couldn’t explain that seemed to point to the Holy Spirit’s working in me, since I was naturally fearful and indecisive.
Desperately, I prayed to the heavenly patrons I thought would understand my plight. First, I called on my baptismal patron, St. Therese of Lisieux, who had asked the Pope to allow her to enter Carmel at age fifteen. I knew she’d be on my side. Then, I made a novena to Mother Thecla, who had faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles to her dream of becoming a sister. Needless to say, with these two humble spiritual giants praying for me, all the obstacles to my entering were cleared away. I was able to enter the convent two months before I turned sixteen—a grace for which I will be forever grateful. (My unexpected determination to enter was a key reason that my father decided to allow me to enter—he knew that only God’s call could convince his indecisive daughter to make such a huge decision at age 15!)
Tomorrow February 2nd is the 18th World Day of Consecrated Life. In many of his homilies and messages, Pope Francis has invited and challenged us as religious to be true spiritual mothers and fathers. His invitations remind me of Mother Thecla in a special way because February 5th is the fiftieth anniversary of Mother Thecla’s death. She continues to inspire us Daughters of St. Paul to be true spiritual mothers. While I know that for many people today it is rare to meet a religious priest, brother, or sister, that only makes our sisters more eager to reach out, to be present in the media, on the internet, wherever we can share our joy in Christ.
This week, I suspect that every Daughter of St. Paul is going to thank God for the gift of her religious vocation and the joy of being able to accompany the People of God with her prayers and sacrifices. I know that I will. And while I hope that you continue to share your special intentions with us, I also encourage you to entrust them to the intercession of Mother Thecla Merlo. Her motherly heart will not let you down.
God bless you.
Sr. Marie Paul Curley, FSP
Visit here for a short biography about the Servant of God, Venerable Mother Thecla Merlo, and visit here for a prayer for her intercession.