St. Paula Montal Fornés: A Saint to Emulate this Lent
Today is the feast of St. Paula Montal Fornés (1799 – 1889), foundress of the Daughters of Mary, Sisters of Pious Schools.
Paula was born in a small seaside village near Barcelona, Spain in 1799 to Ramon and Vicenta Fornes Montal. She was the oldest of five daughters and was only ten when her father died. To help support the family, Paula went to work as a seamstress and lace-maker and helped her mother raise her younger sisters. She also taught catechism in her parish and, in doing so, discovered her gift for teaching. Denied an education herself, Paula promised God that she would devote her life to the Christian education of girls and young women.
Paula believed that women needed an education to prepare them for life. Women in society at that time were treated as subordinate to men, which Paula and her followers perceived as a factor in the breakdown of the family unit and other social maladies. They were determined to advance women and their status in society through education — a comprehensive Catholic education.
At the age of 30, Paula and her friend, Ines Busquets, opened a school in Figueras (Gerona), a border city between Spain and France, which provided girls with a Catholic education to advance the role of women, to rescue families, and to transform society.
Paula founded a second school in her hometown of Arenys del Mar and opened a third school in Sabadell. After the third school was built, she founded the Daughters of Mary, Sisters of Pious Schools, who were devoted to the Blessed Mother and to the education of young women. In addition to the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, these sisters took a fourth vow — that of teaching. When she made her vows, she took the name Paula of Saint Joseph of Calasanz, as she had been greatly influenced by Saint Joseph of Calasanz, and desired to live by the Calasanz spirituality and rules.
When the community gathered at the General Chapter meeting in 1847, Paula was not elected General Superior, or even Assistant General. This was quite unusual, as she was the foundress of the order.
From 1829 to 1859, she was intensely active, founding 7 schools. The last school she personally founded was in Olesa de Montserrat (Barcelona) in 1859. This was her favorite school, where she remained for thirty years, until her death in 1889. Pope John Paul II beatified her in Rome in 1993 and canonized her in 2001. Today, her community is active on more than four continents.
The message of Saint Paula is one of love and service. We are put here on earth to love God and neighbor and reflecting on St. Paula’s life, serving others through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy is one way that we can emulate her during this season of Lent.
~ Copyright Jean M. Heimann, February 2015
Lord, strength of the humble,
You chose St. Paula Montal
To give testimony by her words and deeds
Of your saving love for the family and society.
Through the integral promotion of women
And the Christian education of children and youth,
Grant us through her intercession, the grace
To imitate her in following Christ the Master
And reaching the eternal happiness of Your kingdom.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.