These ‘media nuns’ aren’t behind in the times

5 mins read
Religious Sisters
Sisters Joan Paula Arruda and Andrew Marie Tyler look at a book on an e-reader at the Pauline Books and Media store in Alexandria, Va. CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

The secular media landscape often depicts nuns as stern, joyless and anything but media-savvy. Of course, such a generalization could not be further from the truth, and the Daughters of St. Paul are a prime example of the joy and evangelistic enthusiasm that is so common among women religious.

The Daughters of St. Paul were established in 1915 by Blessed James Alberione. He was born in Italy in 1884, and was ordained a priest in 1907. In August 1914, he initiated the Society of St. Paul, followed by a number of other congregations and foundations that make up the Pauline family today, including the Daughters of St. Paul. Venerable Thecla Merlo was the co-foundress and first Superior General of the Daughters of St. Paul, collaborating with Blessed Alberione from the very start.

The Daughters of St. Paul were founded to evangelize by sharing the Gospel through the most modern and efficacious means. Of course, technology has developed and changed a great deal in the last century, so the means by which the sisters communicate the Gospel has evolved. Various forms of print media have been at their disposal, including new and improved (and much faster) methods of printing; radio, television and now the internet have also been incredibly effective evangelistic tools for the Daughters of St. Paul.

Read more from our Spring Vocation Special Section here.

Sr Danielle
Sister Danielle

“Our apostolate has evolved alongside history into the most relevant means of the day,” said Sister Danielle Victoria Lussier, a junior professed sister who hopes to profess perpetual vows in 2024. “The main apostolate that has endured is our book publishing ministry, Pauline Books and Media.”

Throughout the years, the sisters have made 35mm films; hand-painted film animations; broadcast radio programming; recorded albums; written, edited, illustrated, produced and distributed thousands of books through their book centers across the country; and even traveled in groups of two door-to-door well into the 1990s.

Sister Danielle called the life of the Daughters of St. Paul a paradox: “Called to be contemplatives in action.”

“Throughout the history of our congregation, we have been busy, hardworking, and dynamically responsive to the needs of the times and situations in the Church, but all of our activity is nothing without our deeply Eucharistic Pauline Spirituality and prayer life,” she said.

The sisters still operate book centers, which Blessed Alberione envisioned to be centers of light in the middle of the city.

“As Daughters of St. Paul, we are consecrated to Christ for the mission of evangelizing even in the digital continent,” Sister Danielle said. “We are missionaries wherever we are, called to go out to the people and bring them Christ’s Truth, Way and Life wherever they are.”

Using new media

Whereas the sisters used to go physically door-to-door, they are now present in people’s lives via social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and more.

The Daughters’ Project podcast Twitter/ @daughterstpaul

One of the motivations for the sisters’ social media presence can be found in words of their founder: “Don’t speak only about religion. Speak about everything in a Christian way.” This is one of the most profound characteristics of the Daughters of St. Paul, and it informs their desire to meet people where they are, utilizing media and new technologies to preach the Gospel at all times and in all places. In fact, the Daughters of St. Paul currently live and work in 52 countries all around the world, and their media presence takes them into all the others.

The sisters discern as a community the best ways and places to engage on these new platforms and media.

“Community can be one of the greatest assets of our life in engaging technology,” Sister Danielle said. “We have each other to lean on for spiritual and practical support, to learn new things, accountability, and to discern paths forward through difficult conversations online.”

Each sister utilizes her gifts at the service of the community and the evangelizing apostolate. Sister Danielle serves in the publishing house in the Design Department, designing and illustrating the books the sisters publish.

“Each sister is unique and approaches media and the creative process in her own way,” she said. “When we come together to produce content, we each bring our personal prayer life and perspectives.”

As with any community, tensions can arise. Sometimes a differing approach or different priorities can cause disagreements, but such moments offer an opportunity for “purification, and typically bring our ideas to a strong, more rooted place in Christ,” said Sister Danielle.

‘A timeless quality’ of the order

While many religious communities around the world are struggling to attract new postulants, the Daughters of St. Paul are thriving. Sister Emily Beata joined the Daughters of St. Paul in 2007 and professed perpetual vows in 2018. She now serves as National Vocation Director for the sisters in the United States.

“There are many, many young women out there who are sincerely seeking to follow God’s will for their lives,” she said. She receives multiple inquiries each week from women who are interested in learning more about discernment, religious life and specifically the Daughters of St. Paul.

Sr Emily Beata
Sister Emily Beata

“Each year, likewise, we have a steady number of young women entering formation, which is also a time of extended and intense discernment, in which the young women are able to immerse themselves in our life and experience how and where God is calling them,” Sister Emily said.

The sisters’ significant social media presence plays an important role in raising awareness of their community among discerning young women. That is certainly true for other communities, as well, but the Daughters of St. Paul’s focus on media in their apostolic work makes it a particularly effective tool.

“Young women today are online,” Sister Emily said. “When they have questions about things, they often look online first. It is important for us to be online and on social media so that women can discover us there.” She stressed that it is equally important for the young women to get in touch in a more personal way, whether by phone, video chat, or an in-person visit.

Sister Emily stressed the importance of inviting young people to consider a vocation to religious life. “Pray for vocations, support vocations,” she said. “It makes a difference!”

Daughters of St. Paul perform in 2017 during their annual Christmas concert. CNS photo/courtesy Pauline Media

One thing that Sister Danielle sees as emblematic of the spirit of St. Paul is that each sister is authentically herself in her media presence and face-to-face. “What you see is what you get,” she said. “This is a timeless quality of our Sisters and one that attracted me to consider becoming a Daughter of St. Paul.”

Just as there is no one-size-fits-all saint, there is no one-size-fits-all sister. And the diversity of personalities and experiences among the sisters strengthens their mission, and makes for more effective media engagement.

“It is seeking to love one another in our diversity that we truly refine one another and the people of God,” Sister Danielle said. “Community is the training ground for mission.”

“From the beginning we have been challenged to adapt as the media landscape changed,” Sister Emily Beata said. “However, as we know, the message of the Gospel does not change. We have always had the same message to communicate through the changing forms of media: God is real, God is with you, God loves you. How we do this changes, but what we do remains the same.”

Paul Senz writes from Oregon.

Paul Senz

Paul Senz writes from Oklahoma.