Maestra Thecla Merlo’s Faith

(Testimony of Sr. Nazarena Morando, fsp)

When the Daughters of St. Paul were still without a name, an identity or a house, Prima Maestra believed. She surrendered herself to God with complete trust and was docile to the point of heroism. Her faith led her to accept the will of God and the dispositions and directives of Primo Maestro even when these were obscure, uncompromising, and involved sacrifices and renunciations…. But this did not mean that Prima Maestra was a weak or passive person. Far from it! On the contrary, she was very strong-willed, dynamic and decisive. Her self-surrender and docility were the fruit of her faith.

Maestra Thecla Merlo had received from God the special gifts of an open mind, a keen insight that was prompt to take action; a firm and decisive will, and a tender, kind and sensitive heart. She cultivated these gifts, refining and sublimating them through her spirit of faith, total and loving adherence to the will of God, and profound and fervent prayer life. Precisely because she relied on God, she was able to guide and govern the Congregation wisely and carry out [the responsibilities of] her arduous office competently.

Around 1930, the Daughters of St. Paul began the “propaganda” apostolate, which involved taking the good press to the families–a mission that the sisters carried out with great generosity and wholehearted dedication. The first experimental steps [in the Pauline mission] were being taken…. Prima Maestra wanted to experience this apostolate herself. She wanted to identify with the fatigues her daughters bore in carrying out this mission, see if there were any dangers involved in it, and keep an eye on everything. She said to the sister who accompanied her: “Watch what I do and tell me whether or not I’m doing it right. And don’t reply [to this request] by insisting that I’m the superior.”

Prima Maestra sealed her great love for her daughters with what I can say was an act of supreme love: yearning for the true good of all the sisters–namely, their sanctification–she offered her life for this intention.

On the Feast of the Holy Trinity 1961, she wrote to me: “I offered my life so that all the Daughters of St. Paul might become saints.” Didn’t Jesus himself say that the greatest proof of love is to give one’s life for the loved one? In this too, Prima Maestra’s love was heroic.

While she was a patient at Albano due to the gravity of her illness, someone brought her a copy of Inter Mirifica to see and read. She rejoiced because by means of this document the Church, at that time in the midst of Vatican Council II, had ratified the instruments of social communication as means of apostolate. I think that at that point she was able to sing her own Nunc dimittis [Simeon’s canticle: “Lord, let your servant go in peace”].

Sr. Nazarena Morando (1904-1984)In January 1919, 15-year-old Enrichetta Morando (in religion, Sr. Nazarena) joined the tiny group of young women from Alba who had gone to Susa in December 1918 at Fr. Alberione’s request to begin what he called “the apostolate of the good press.” Along with the rest of the “daughters,” she helped to produce and distribute the diocesan newspaper, La Valsusa, and numerous parish bulletins. She made her perpetual vows in Alba in 1930 and soon became one of Maestra Thecla’s closest collaborators. She served the Congregation in particular as formation mistress (1931-1945) and as a General Councilor (1945-1971).