Guest post by Allison Salerno
Nestled between the Pacific Bronze Tanning Salon and the Muscle Maker Grill in the Wick Shopping Plaza, a strip mall in Edison, New Jersey, was a pool of light, contemplation, and prayer: the Pauline Books & Media Center, run by the Daughters of Saint Paul, a community of religious sisters. The store held hundreds of books, videos, and CDs in both Spanish and English. For years, I shopped there for Communion and Confirmation cards, crèches, Flannery O’Connor novels, and Christmas wrapping paper with religious themes. Tucked into the back of the store, behind a door, was a small chapel available for Eucharistic Adoration. The shop was convenient to our home, but family friends who discovered it would drive an hour or more to shop there because of the quality of its products.
Even more special than the merchandise, however, were the Pauline sisters who ran the bookstore. The Daughters of Saint Paul is a religious congregation of consecrated women founded more than 100 years ago to spread the Gospel through the printed word. Blessed Fr. James Alberione, its founder, is quoted on the Sisters’ website describing his vision of the Pauline Sisters. “An apostle is one who carries God in her soul and radiates him around herself.”
Boy, did they ever.
Whenever I entered the store, I felt enveloped by peace. The kind-hearted sisters, dressed in traditional habit, would greet me with a smile and ask if I needed help looking for something. No matter if I left with armloads of books or nothing at all, they would say “God bless you,” as I left.
Sometimes, I came searching for a particular product. Other times, I came to browse and linger. I bought my Liturgy of the Hours there, published by the sisters’ Pauline Press. The sisters would let customers sit in the comfy armchairs and read, and didn’t mind my boisterous children running through the store or playing in the nook they had set aside for Catholic children’s toys and board books.
The sisters had a gift for knowing what I needed, sometimes even before I did. Once, my husband asked me to buy some spiritual books for him about dealing with anger. When I mentioned this to a Sister, she perused the shelves and returned to me bearing books about grief. How had she known that my husband, who survived the World Trade Center attacks, bore deep grief beneath his anger over the loss of 25 friends and colleagues?
The Daughters of Saint Paul was founded in the Piedmont Region of Italy at the dawn of the 20th Century by a 16-year-old Italian seminarian named James Alberione. Its mission is to use the media to evangelize. Today, the sisters publish more than 20 magazines, operate 40 publishing houses, produce radio programs in many languages, work in video and recording studios, all to spread the Word of God. As their founder said: “we do not teach in classrooms. Our classroom is the world.”
Pauline sisters now live in communities in more than 100 major cities in North and South America. Their motherhouse is in Boston. The sisters, who had commuted from Staten Island each day, shut the Edison store on Dec. 19, 2009. They still operate a store on East 52nd Street in Manhattan.
Yesterday afternoon, I drove past the now-vacant store, as I was headed from GameStop, where I picked up a video game for our son, to Pathmark, where I had to buy last-minute dinner fixings. I felt sad, knowing I could no longer stop by Pauline Books and Media Center. I felt grateful their presence and care during the more than a dozen years I lived near their store.
Despite my sense of personal loss, the sisters and their evangelizing work lives on – through their books, blogs and broadcasts as well as in their 14 other Pauline Centers across North America and their online store.
“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News!” (Rom 10:15)