Rome, 7 February 1964
Let us remember the words of Sacred Scripture: “The hand of the Lord is upon me” (Is. 61:1). Prima Maestra could have said this.
In creating her, the Lord predestined her to become holy and to lead many other people along the path to holiness by giving her the gifts she needed [to carry out this mission]. Then, at her baptism, the Holy Spirit filled her with special graces in view of her future mission. He did this once again when she made her first confession and first communion.
The little plant was carefully tended in her family, in the parish, in school-everywhere. She was always docile, always generous. Later, when she attended the school run by the Sisters of the Institute of St. Anne, she became acquainted with the religious life.
Her health was frail and she was often sick but the Lord does what he wants, using the people he chooses. It would be well to reflect on the fact that holiness is always founded on a life that is lived wisely. First the natural virtues must develop, then those linked to family life and society because the Christian and religious virtues are based on these.
When she was about twenty, God called [Teresa Merlo] to carry out a special mission. She joined a group of young women who would in time become the Daughters of St. Paul.
Her health was so poor that when she began her new life there were those who doubted she would be able to continue. In fact, she immediately began to show signs of her physical fragility. But the Lord intervened in this too so that, with the help of divine grace and her own strength of will and prudence, she reached the age of seventy, carrying out many delicate duties and working continually. Always weak, she was at the same time always strong because her office required strength.
Her “apprenticeship” in the Institute of the Daughters of St. Paul was difficult because it involved a new mission. During that time, Prima Maestra was intensively taught by Canon Chiesa. This instruction made her even more open-minded and generous toward others. She also became familiar with the technical instruments [of communication] and came to understand their important role in spreading good.
She was an excellent catechist in Sts. Cosmas and Damian parish, in Alba. From that point on, she began to cultivate the religious virtues in addition to the Christian virtues she was already living.
Prepared in this way and loved for her goodness, always humble and exemplary in behavior, she was placed in charge of the community and carried out this office up to the last day of her life.
Now I believe she is watching over her Congregation from heaven.
She governed by example more than anything else and she considered prayer an indispensable instrument for carrying out her office.
She wielded her authority benevolently-all the Daughters of St. Paul can testify to this.
The vocation of the Daughters of St. Paul was something completely new. Prima Maestra guided and supported them. When problems arose, she was like oil in the gears. One day, in Turin, she said: “From now on I will precede my daughters so as to encourage them, defend them from dangers, teach them how to approach others and how to behave when carrying out the propaganda apostolate.” The preparation of the Constitutions, the approvals, the churches, the new houses, the growing number of vocations, administration activities, etc.-all are “uncharted ground” in a new Institute and it all presented problems that she resolved especially during her hours of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.
The internal and external story of the Institute, as well as Prima Maestra’s life and virtues, are all well known to the Daughters of St. Paul. Every day was a new page, edifying and encouraging. Not only the Daughters of St. Paul of Italy but also those abroad are familiar with her Pauline and apostolic spirit. I saw this for myself in the houses I visited last year.
What was the secret of her holiness? They were two and they are the secrets of the saints and apostles: humility and faith. These explain her many virtues, the fruitful apostolate being carried out in many nations, to which numerous other nations are being added every year. In fact, today too we are opening houses in new countries to bring their inhabitants the message of salvation through the instruments of social communication.
A humility that led to docility. Many times things were dark and risky, and what was asked of her was uninviting. But her virtue enabled her to overcome every difficulty.
A faith that led to prayer. Everyone is familiar with the spirit of prayer from which she drew her renowned wisdom in governing.
The other day, Cardinal Larraona said to one of our priests: “Maestra Thecla was the most prudent person I have ever known.”
We must also add that she surrounded herself with sound collaborators, just as she wisely chose the persons she sent to open houses outside of Italy. At times, the person chosen did not seem to be the best suited for the job but it later proved that [Prima Maestra] was guided by the Spirit of God. It should also be remembered that she helped all the initiatives, all the Pauline Congregations, including the last: the Apostoline Sisters. How much good advice she gave everyone during her meetings with the sisters of the other Pauline Congregations. She even offered suggestions for the religious habit of some of these Institutes.
Prima Maestra was not only a superior: she was the Mother of your Institute. There will be others who will carry out the office of superior and who will follow the examples of Prima Maestra, but they will not be mothers. So study her spirit, remember her examples, read what she wrote and, in particular, follow the advices she gave in her conferences because she knew how to present things at the right time and in such a good and tactful way that everyone accepted what she said and carried her words in their hearts.
Two conclusions: the first is to offer suffrages for her soul.
The sufferings Prima Maestra bore during her life and during her final illness certainly purified and sanctified her. Nevertheless we have the duty to offer suffrages for her.
This morning I began to celebrate the Gregorian Masses [for her]. Yesterday I celebrated Mass at Albano for her, so as to initiate the suffrages for her soul. Today, her body will arrive here. All of you should remember her teachings and examples.
Second conclusion: Prima Maestra pointed out the path to you with many sacrifices. The steps she took were hard and at times risky. She was frail in health but strong in spirit; determined and obedient to the point of sacrifice. And the Lord always rewarded her virtue. So follow her examples and her religious-apostolic spirit.
How many times she said she wanted to do a little good to others, to bring a little light to the world! She lived our three main devotions-to Jesus Master, the Queen of Apostles and St. Paul-in an exemplary way.
So follow the path traced out by Prima Maestra. It is a path that climbs toward the heights of perfection and thus toward the continual development of the Institute.
Lately, I have reminded you of the need to choose your vocations well and to help them begin to carry out the apostolate. Launch them on this path immediately because it is the apostolate that gives us our “color” and the distinctive features of our Pauline religious life.
So here again are two consequences, two resolutions: to continue to offer suffrages for Prima Maestra’s soul and to follow her examples and teachings.