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St Paula of Saint Joseph of Calasanz
Founder of the Daughters of Mary (Sisters of the Pious Schools, or Escolapias) (entered heaven on this day, 1889)
I am so relieved you have finally chosen a major. I am doubly relieved that it is in a solid, substantial academic discipline and not in one of these faddy, fashionable pseudo-disciplines that last a couple years and then dissipate. You will find, I am sure (if your professors are even half-decent), that the old proverb rings quite true: “Historia magister vitae”, “History is life’s teacher.” Part of me, in fact, wishes that EVERYONE were required to major in history. It would preempt so many ideological problems. Take the misunderstanding of the Church’s view of women, for instance. Today’s saint alone disproves all the false accusations about the Church being oppressive and misogynistic, but if you didn’t study a bit of history, you’d never hear about her.
Paula grew up in tough circumstances. She was the eldest of five children and had to work hard to help her widowed mother provide for and take care of the family. But in the midst of her struggles she discovered her vocation. She realized that women in her society had scant opportunity for formation, education, and advancement, and she felt called to change that.
When she was 30-years-old, she deemed the time was right. With a friend to accompany and help her, she moved to the capital of the region and opened a school for the formation and education of girls. She envisioned it as a way to promote the advancement of women and the good of family life, which was a prerequisite for the improvement of society. Soon she opened a second school in her home town, then a third, and with the third she came into contact with some priests who recognized her gift. They encouraged her to expand her influence by starting a Congregation dedicated to furthering the work. She did. It is called the Daughters of Mary, or the Sisters of the Pious Schools.
She devoted the rest of her life to embodying the spirit of her Institute, even though she was never elected its superior. By the time of her death, over 300 Sisters were engaged in the new apostolate in 19 schools throughout Spain. By the time of her canonization in 2001, 800 sisters were educating more than 30,000 students in 19 countries.
So even as the modern feminist movement was trying to break ground, the Catholic Church was already promoting the integral development and education of women through the work not only of St Paula, but also through dozens of other, similar works that were springing up throughout Europe and the Americas. If that little lesson of history were learned by the feminist critics of the Church, it would help open their eyes to the undeniable truth that Catholicism not only values, but stimulates other social institutions to value the unique contribution of the feminine genius to the good of the human family.
Congratulations again, and may your studies in History be a good teacher, for life.
Your devoted uncle,