- Paula Frassinetti (eng)
- 1. God Chose
a weak person in the eyes of the world and He gave her His strength.
a person nobody in the eyes of the world from an unassuming family to carry out His projects.
an ordinary woman in the eyes of the world a young woman without culture to confuse the presumption of the enlightened century and stir up in the Church a new leaven that would offer youth a life educated and molded by the values of the Gospel.
FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE SISTERS OF SAINTE DOROTHY
St. Paula’s motto:
WILL OF GOD, MY PARADISE
- 2. A Gift of God
Paula was born in Genoa in 1809 in an area known as, Borgo Lanaioli.
Her father, a man of the old stock, was deeply religious.
He was a cloth merchant. Her mother an uncomplicated, gentle woman was soon to leave Paula an orphan.
Paula grew up in a time in history in which the clash between the old and new ideologies was strong and violent.
The ideas of liberty, independence, and democracy advocated by the Italian revival augured a new type of government.
The appearance of technology gave rise to a new economical and social system.
It was a time of transition. Once old supports were removed, new ones were being looked for. Tensions and clashes were inevitable.
Paula was fully aware of the era she was living in.
Many around her proclaimed violent revolution in order to achieve a renewed society, Paula preferred the Gospel revolution, which achieves results through Love. A top priority of this time was the advancement of women. Paula understood this and responded by educating girls to become in the first place women and then Christian women.
She spent her adolescence in the family, helping in the managing of the home and receiving some home schooling from her father who refused to send her to school.
Later in her life she told the Sisters that she learned a lot by listening to the conversations between her father and her four brothers.
All her brothers eventually became priests. She loved to be with her elder brother Joseph, who shared with his sister all he had learned in his theological studies and in his daily contact with people. It was in these meetings that a common ideal gradually developed. The Lord would eventually make Joseph and Paula two great apostles.
The influence of the family on Paula’s future choices was decisive.
God’s works of art do not happen on the spur-of-the moment. They are the fruit of a slow maturing process one which, in normal circumstances, starts and develops within the family.
The relationships that are established and the ethos that is absorbed, are basic in the development of the person.
Paula always maintained that the family is the first and fundamental educative community.
Later on Paula would entrust, to her religious family, the duty to “revive in Christian parents the commitment to the moral and religious education of young girls..”..
- 3. In the Parish
In 1827, when only 22 years old, Paula’s brother, Joseph, is ordained a priest. Paula is then 18 years old.
Father Joseph was sent as parish priest to Quinto, a small town on the Ligurian coast The poor morals and lack of religious education of his parishioners did not discourage him, but he realized that the presence of his sister would be a valuable help.
His father reluctantly gave his consent, to Paula’s transfer to Quinto, because he thought that her weak health would benefit from the change.
In parish life Paula experiences for the first time, the joy of giving herself to so many.
She experiences living in an enlarged group and having wide spread, varied contacts, an experience very different to what she was accustomed to in her family.
Her heart widens to cope with the situation.
The Lord’s invitation made itself more clear and insistent. He wanted her all for His own to be able to send her, bearer of His Love, to the people of her time.
Paula together with her brother opened a small school for poor children. The new initiative showed that Paula had all the qualities of a good educator: dedication, alertness, intuition, patience, tact, kindliness… intelligence, and an open heart, sweetness and firmness.
Her simple and pleasant ways encouraged others to trusther and start a friendship… a friendship which would help those children to improve their behavior. Paula taught them how to pray in addition to teaching them how to write, and she spoke to them about Jesus whom she already knew so well and loved deeply.
In this way her God given gifts gradually surfaced. Gifts that God had invested in her and which she learned how to freely give to those near her and to the whole Church.
- 4. Her Friends
The older girls in the parish wished so much to meet the parish priest’s sister. One of these, Marianna Danero, managed to reach her goal and they planned to meet every Sunday and go for a walk on the nearby mountain, Monte Moro.
In this way a friendship that would last a life time was established between Paula and Marianna.
They spent many a Sunday together enjoying the mountain and seascape around them while at the same time they spoke about their life and God…
Soon other young women joined them on these Sundays on the mountain slopes which reached down to the sea at Quinto.
While singing and skipping around the olive and cypress trees, their gaze captured by the vastness of the horizon before them, Paula communicated the ideal she carried in her heart to the hearts of her friends.
Together they reflected, discussed, and made projects…
Being together, talking together out in the open with the sky as their roof in the shade of the woods nearby, had bonded them as a group and had placed in the heart of each one the desire to belong to the Lord, to know Christ, to continue His Mission in the world.
They wanted to help humanity improve itself and they chose to do this dedicating themselves to the little girls, to the adolescent girls, in other words to the future women.
A Sixth Sense
Paula believed it was possible for a woman to contribute to the transformation of society both through her direct intervention and also because of the influence she had in the life of men and in the life of the future generation.
In that part of the 18 century the situation of women was already different from the previous century. Women enjoyed greater freedom of movement and action, but this advance could have been used against them if they remained at the same stage of cultural and religious deprivation in which they then were.
It was necessary to give them a human and Christian formation that would enable them to take an active, critical role in society and thus prepare them to hold new positions.
A sixth sense that today is more valid because of the enlarged field of action of women and also because it is still not clear to all that women enjoy, “equal dignity and responsibility with men”.
How does one implement this common project?
Paula and her companions did not have the necessary dowry to enter the monasteries then in existence.
On the other hand they longed for a different life, which was not monastic.
They did not wish to live in isolation in a cell, but they wished to share, in evangelical poverty and friendship, the simple everyday life: the work for their livelihood, their own formation, the proclamation of the gospel… and prayer.
They did not wish to distance themselves from the world, but they wanted to live in the world to make their own its joys, uncertainties, anxieties, and build the Kingdom of God.
According to early documents, they planned to form a group in which, “they could live an apostolic life that was suitable for women”.
- 5. The First Steps
Paula spoke to her brother, who was very happy to see how the Lord was inviting his sister to a magnifìcent adventure, but he did not hide the inevitable and perhaps numerous difficulties she would meet. This did not frighten Paula.
Later she would write that, “working indefatigably and suffering for love of God brings us great consolation, comfort, and fortifies the spirit”.
Together they asked advice of friends who shared and sustained the project.
Under the direction of her brother, Paula and her friends began a process of preparation towards what would become their future life together.
Nobody imagined how this initial idea.
When the villagers of Quinto saw certain attitudes of the girls, they thought they were crazy. Gossips began to weave their tales…
Some of the girls left the group… Father Joseph thought it was impossible to go on and he tried to persuade his sister to abandon the project. Paula was not afraid of diffìculties, she felt secure because she had placed all her trust only in the Lord.
She saw clearly that the project was God’s will and she was determined to go ahead, if her companions agreed, even without her brother’s help.
Paula understood the value of walking together, she saw the strength created by a group that was united around a common ideal. She was aware that the gift she had received did not belong solely to her.
Together they had been called, together they had started, together they would decide whether they should continue…
It depended on what the Spirit would inspire each one to do.
They evaluated their present situation according to the Gospel… they prayed… and united they decided to continue on the path they had initiated. Seeing the determination of his sister Father Joseph continued to help her.
Through these diffìcult times the group had strengthened its bonds and was ready to begin the mission entrusted to it by God.
- 6. A Significant Day
Early one morning at dawn, when all was still in silence and nature was only beginning to take on its daytime colors Paula and her friends together with Father Joseph went up to the Church of St. Clare at St. Martino in Albaro… Within the Eucharistic celebration which renews Jesus’ offering of Himself for the salvation of the world, these young women who were all in their twenties, committed themselves to offer their life as a gift so that they could be in a better position to help the people of their time to discover and believe in the Love of God.
An invincible and active faith was to be their strength, for this reason they would be called, “Daughters of the Holy Faith”.
It was August 12 1834, a brilliant day that outlived the test of time!
This was the beginning of the story of a group of women whose passion for the Kingdom was like a magnet which drew them to put themselves at the service of women who found themselves in a situation of inferiority and exploitation.
Young women born to wealthy families might have had the option of receiving some type of education, yet those born to the poor grew up ignorant and illiterate, an easy prey to corruption. It was urgent to think about them!
Having rented a small house, with the help of friends, they began immediately to teach poor little girls and they also accepted a few orphans. The place was not big enough to house them all.
Life in the little house of Quinto was very intense: apostolate, prayer, work to earn a living, that meant weaving cotton late into the night…
«Many could not put up with this sort of work rhythm and the austere life. But if some gave up others took their place…
These were young women who, after having been disciples, decided to give themselves to the Lord to share in the mission of their educators.
From among the first companions the only two who remained faithful to the end were Marianna Danero and Teresa Albino.
The group increased in number while the field of action also expanded.
- 7. Sisters of Saint Dorothy
In 1835 a priest from Bergamo, Fr. Luke Passi, a friend of Fr. Joseph, visited Quinto and, having met Paula, understood immediately her capabilities and the potential of the group she had founded.
He asked her to adopt, as a method of carrying out the apostolate, the movement which he was spreading throughout Italy as a means of educating poor and needy young women.
The parish was the center of this movement. With the help of young women who had a better formation, Fr. Luke planned to reach other young girls in their everyday environment, at work… in the streets, in the lanes… and having established a friendship, help them to grow as persons and as Christians.
Paula understood the uniqueness and the value of this initiative. In the simplicity of its method she was able to identify her way of educating.
She shared the idea that the parish should be the center, that the planning should be clear and balanced. The collaboration with other young girls, who needed to be formed towards the apostolate, was an excellent way of reaching girls who otherwise would have remained isolated.
She accepted Fr. Luke’s proposal, and in agreement with her companions, she changed the name of the group to that of the Sisters of St. Dorothy the name of the work they had made their own.
It was an important moment in the life of the group because with this choice Paula had defined more clearly the apostolic boundaries of her consecration.
She had also strengthened her most fundamental desire: that of being completely available in the hands of God to evangelize through education giving fìrst place to young people and the poor.
- 8. New Horizons
It was yet another friend, Fr. Luigi Sturla, who offered Paula another apostolic challenge.
He asked her to take the direction of a school for poor children that he had opened in Genoa in the St. Teodoro district.
How could she say no?
Together the companions decided that Marianna Danero and Teresa Albino should go…
It was 1835, Paula’s first companions detached themselves from the group to form a new one.
A process was started through which, over the years, Paula’s gift would spread in rhe different continents. Paula had learned how to see the Will of God unfold through different events and this offered her the occasion to open a house in Rome.
It was the year 1841.
It was difficult to detach herself from Genoa, leave her father, her companions, her brothers, her friends…
Paula’s natural timidity caused her to tremble when faced with the unknown future… But God wanted her in Rome!…
Her apostolic zeal was stronger than any natural fear.
Her passion for the glory of God and the building of His Kingdom moved her.
Her love for the Church and her desire that the newly formed group should receive from the Pope himself the mandate to serve, made her overcome all difficulties.
Totally abandoned to God, strong in her trust in Him and in His great love, she left with two companions who were much younger than her.
- 9. In Rome
In Rome, Paula and her companions experienced severe poverty. They lived in two tiny rooms over the Torlonia stables, in Holy Apostles Lane. Here they experienced a taste of the hard life lived by the poorest of this Catholic City.
This situation was no obstacle to Paula in giving herself immediately to do the good she saw was “immense and urgent”.
She established the Work of St. Dorothy in seven parishes: St. Maria Maggiore, St. James in Augusta, St. Bernard, St. Mary sopra Minerva, St. Lucy of Gonfalone, St. Angelo in Pescheria and St. Mark.
In their little house, together with her companions she taught catechism and a sample of normal school subjects.
Eighteenth century Rome presented a sharp contrast between its splendid churches and monuments, and the poor, humid shacks in its squalid slum areas.
The cultured, affluent aristocracy was a strong contrast from the poverty and ignorance of the vast number of the ordinary people.
Yet in these refined circles often behind a front of apparent security and prestige sad situations of moral and spiritual miseries lay hidden.
Although Paula confirmed her preference for poor children whom she described as, “pure images of God without a frame”, she was always attentive to be of service to humanity. She saw the necessity of educating young girls from the more affluent families, so that in the future they could be the Christian leaven in the leading class.
In a time in history when class difference was still a prominent feature of society, Paula tried informally, to diminish the divide between rich and poor children, so that they could help each other.
Having found a larger house near St. Maria Maggiore she opened a boarding school.
According to the expressed desire of Pope Gregory XVI, she later moved to Salita S. Onofrio were His Holiness askedher to transform a poorly managed charitable establishment into a boarding school. This became the Motherhouse where Paula lived until her death.
- 10. Apostolic Enthusiasm and Suffering
She accepted with enthusiasm every offer that she could respond to. Schools, boarding schools, orphanages, catechism, Work of St. Dorothy, the Spiritual Exercises… these were the practical ways in which she tried to give some support, and if necessary substitute the educative and formative role of the family.
They were years of intense work that she accomplished unobtrusively, on “tip toe”. They were also years of consolation. Naturally an apostle’s greatest joy is to announce Jesus and His Gospel. She traveled the streets of Rome, of the Pontifical State of Liguria and later of Portugal to enliven and to encourage the Sisters and proclaim the love Christ has for us.
They were also years of war, suffering, sorrow, death…
In the upheaval of 1849 the sisters of Genoa were dispersed, certain houses in the Pontifical State were closed, those of Rome were threatened as was also Paula’s life…
Certain fanatics declared they would throw her into the Tiber… and as was her style, she wittily answered that she would never have dreamed that her last mouthful of water would have been so dirty!!!…
Paula lived and interpreted events in the light of Faith.
Torn between the contradictions of the Italian revival, she suffered to see Pope Pius IX attacked on all sides, but she did not refuse to help Garibaldi when the Gianicolo was a battlefield… Every person is a child of God!
In 1866 the world opens its doors to Paula’s apostolic zeal. With missionary courage she accepts the risk to send sisters to Brazil. So many offer, it seems like a competition in generosity.
These distant countries need workers… “the harvest is great… but the laborers are few”.
Paula is quick to respond, but experiences all the anxiety of a mother who sees her children leave for a distant land…
She would like to leave with them… but as she later told them in a letter, she entrusted them to God who would carry them “in His all powerful arms”.
With similar courage, in the same year, she sends sisters to Portugal where, for political reasons all religious congregations had been suppressed.
The Sisters went there in secular clothes and worked undercover. Difficulties do not make Paula give up. All her life is interwoven with difficulties, but love always prevails: love for her God and for all men and women. She wrote, “For love of our Love nothing is too much”. (Letter 11.6)
The time arrives for Paula to enter into the new heaven and new earth that she had spent a lifetime constructing, while she caught a glimpse of it here on earth…
On June 11 , 1882…
Paula had reached the end of her stay on this earth but the gift she had received continues to develop through the dynamism of the Spirit which had created it, given it life and which still today sustains it and gives it life.
- 11. Paula’s Spirit Continues…
1910 was a particularly difficult but fruitful year in the years “after Paula”. The revolution in Portugal caused the dispersal of the Sisters.
They were forced to leave that country, in sorrow and privation, and transplant Paula’s gift in other nations… Spain, Switzerland, the United States, Belgium, England, Malta… where the refugee Sisters are welcomed.
“… unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies,
it does not produce any fruit…” (John 12:24)
Today, Paula’s gift lives on in the heart and in the commitment of more than a thousand Dorotheans and in the laity who share their spirituality in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, England, Malta, United States, Brazil, Perù, Argentina, Angola, Mozambique, the island of San Tome, Taiwan, Albania, Azores, Cameroon and the Philippines.