Because of the Daughters of St. Paul

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)

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  • Warren Jewell

    In our Chicago store of these stalwart Catholic ladies, they always made me feel like their Dad or GrandDad. I would go in just to make them laugh, it was so like a hymn of joy. These Sisters have made their vocations a thing of joy shared as much as books published and distributed. I just love them, like I do my daughter (and even as they are Saint Paul's) for their joy.

  • I loved their store around the corner from Grand Central Staion in NYC when I lived there in the early 80s. I used to buy my Rosaries from them, and their simple book on the saints was where I first learned about Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe!! Ironically, I purchases a beautiful handblown glass cross made in Argentina for my mom (who is of Argentine descent) right from that very shop in the strip mall in NJ many years ago!! The cross sits in a place of honor in our parents' living room today. Thank you, Allison for your lovely post on these special nuns. PS: Would you ever consider a guest post on your hisband's harrowing escape from the Tower on 9-11? How did that impact his/your faith journey?

  • Allison Salerno

    @murjerlatina: Thanks. No, there is no ONE post on Greg's ordeal and how it impacted us. I think there would be dozens of posts. My faith journey did not begin that day – it began long before that.Blessings to you.

  • Worm

    I love the Daughters of St. Paul. Their joy for God and for life is contagious. I have read about surveys that indicate that priests are the happiest people in their jobs. I believe that, except I suspect the Daughters of St. Paul were not included in the survey. I am grateful for their store within walking distance of my office and to Sr. Helena Burns who left enough of an impression when I met her that I needed to visit the store and their website. For a glimpse at her sense of humor, she has a blog called "Hell Burns."

  • crazylikeknoxes

    It's been years since the good Sisters closed up shop in our town, and Cleveland has been the poorer for it (if such a thing is possible). It was about the time that was becoming the most efficient way to find and purchase books. I have and listen to several of their CDs. It is good to hear their voices, even if you can't see the smiling faces making the sound.

  • Allison Salerno

    @crazylikeknoxes: The sisters give concerts, splitting the proceeds between the host parish and their own community, I believe. I don't know if they have a community in your corner of Ohio, but it is a thought…

  • crazylikeknoxes

    This past December the Sisters gave a Christmas concert at the cathedral downtown which I very much enjoyed. I spoke with one of them afterwards and, if I am remembering correctly, she told me they only tour during the Christmas season. She also said that the Sisters in the choir/group come from their Centers all over the States and rehearse together as a group for only a couple of weeks before they begin performing. Again, if I am remembering correctly.

  • Henry Zmuda

    Though I now live in Florida I grew up in central NJ. After returning Home from being a fallen away Catholic for a number of years it was the Edison location of Pauline Books and Media that fed my hungry adult soul. I would visit them just about every week and always spend more money than I should have, though it was worth every dime. The sisters were generous in so many ways. I can remember one Christmas season some years back when the economy was good and sales at the store were booming. They had an unannounced sale with much of their regular mechandice reduced up to 80%. I left the store with several boxes of great books! When I asked the reason for this sale, the sister simply said that sales were good recently and they wanted to thank their customers in a special way for thier generosity. I would so look forward to visiting the store when I would visit NJ. Funny how the closing of a retail store can leave such a feeling of emptiness in me. I sure will miss them.

  • Sr Margaret Kerry

    Greetings from the Daughters of St Paul. Thank you for this post and encouragement! Sr Margaret

  • Allison Salerno

    @Sr. Margaret Kerry fsp:Thank you for reading and for the gifts you all share with the rest of us!

  • Rae

    Thanks, Sr. Margaret Kerry for posting a link to this article on your Pauline blog, Allison and all, did you know there is a lay component of the Pauline Family, called the Pauline Cooperators? I met the Daughters of St. Paul 11 years ago at the first of their annual Film Retreats. I found out that they were "media nuns" (and priests), founded by Blessed James Alberione in order to use the new means of social communication to tell the world the Good News.I took an online discernment course, and then did a formation period, and after two years became a full-fledged member of the Paulines as a Cooperator. My life has never been the same! I encourage any of you who enjoy the Pauline charism when you walk into their centers, to explore whether you might be called to join the Daughters and the other orders and institutes of the Pauline Family as a Cooperator. Not quite sure what's the best method of finding out more about it, but email me, Rae, at if you are interested in learning more.