In 1994 we Daughters of St. Paul celebrated the centenary of the birth of our first Superior General, Maria Teresa Merlo, or Maestra Thecla, (Maestra meaning Teacher, as she was called by us and Thecla, the name she took for profession).
Back in 1915, when she was 21, the Holy Spirit opened before her a completely new future when he guided her steps toward Father James Alberione in the town of Alba in Piedmont. In the previous year Father Alberione had gathered around himself a group of young men with a view to promoting a mission which he had still not fully formulated--the proclamation of the Gospel through the printed word and by all other means offered by the advance of modern technology.
He met Teresa on June 27, 1915, and told her of his intention of launching a congregation of women alongside the men, declaring his firm belief that they too were called to the mission of “the good press” as active partners in the pastoral work of the ordained priesthood. Teresa, who had already learned to see the hand of God in everyday events and to believe in the help of his “strong right arm,” agreed to Father Alberione’s suggestion with enthusiasm. She knew she could count on God’s help. So she and just two other young women came together as the first community of the future Daughters of St. Paul. The group was born with scarcely a stir. Yet in that modest house of the Via Accademia at Alba they took the first steps toward the expression of their own charismatic character; they set up a tiny lending library with a prophetic name, “The New Book Shop.” Not long afterward they began to train as compositors, and in 1918, at Susa, they finally moved into the field of their chosen calling by producing the diocesan newspaper, La Valsusa.
On July 22, 1922, Teresa was called by the Founder to lead the Congregation, which was constituted that day when the first nine sisters took vows, in which they promised to serve God and the Church for life through the apostolate of the printed word. For her name in religion she made the significant choice of Thecla, after one of St. Paul’s earliest followers.
From that day until February 5, 1964, when Our Lord accepted the offering of her life for the sanctification of the Daughters of St. Paul, Thecla ceased to exist for herself. Her whole life became identified with that of the Congregation which she was called to guide in the ways of the spirit and of the modern apostolate.
Maestra Thecla’s special charism was to know how to make herself available to others without interfering in their roles or losing sight of her own. Her particular greatness lay in the way she was able to work alongside the Founder, Father James Alberione, whose boundless energy and enterprise more than kept pace with the speed of change in the twentieth century. She worked with him in the spirit of total faith, recognizing a prophet of God…. Indeed she remains a model and guide for today’s apostles, giving a new impetus and providing a new dimension for the proclamation of the Gospel.
Thecla’s message is still of great relevance today…We hope that her witness will offer encouragement to others and that young people may be moved to consider the attractions of a vocation. She wished she had “a thousand lives to devote to the noble apostolate” of social communications.
By Sr. Giovannamaria Carrara, FSP
Taken from the Introduction to the book entitled Thecla Merlo Messenger of the Good News