Sister Paola D'Auria’s vocational story is stormy, but today she’s famous across Italy for her charitable work.
Sister Paola D’Auria’s vocational story is stormy, to say the least, including the intervention of the police. Today, she’s famous across Italy both for her charitable work and for appearing as a regular on a TV sports entertainment show for 12 years, expressing her enthusiastic support of a Roman soccer club, Lazio. The latter could seem out of place to some people, but it has helped give her a platform to speak about the former.
Sr. Paola’s “origin story”
On an Italian TV show called “Today is another day” (“Oggi è un altro giorno”), Sr. Paola recently retraced the stages of her life that led her to become a religious. Il Sussidiario shared some of her words on that occasion.
“My mother sent me to study in Rome,” Sr. Paola recounts. “At a certain point I got this desire [to become a sister] because I was studying with the sisters. One day I saw them running up and down the stairs, very flustered because the superior general was coming. She was a small, hunched woman who had left her country, Slovenia, because the communists had closed all the sisters’ houses. When I saw this and saw her humility, I decided to become a sister.”
Dressed as a bride
When she became a sister, at the time of her profession of vows, it was difficult for Sr. Paola because of the lack of support from her family. “I dressed like a bride,” she says, as is the tradition in some religious communities; taking religious vows is seen as becoming a spiritual bride of Christ. At that joyful moment, she was alone. “There were relatives of all the girls who were becoming sisters, but I had no one with me. I was so sad. I entered the church and after the whole ceremony, I got the call from the Juvenile Court. They summoned me and the mother superior.”
Sr. Paola’s mother, who opposed her vocation and didn’t think that her daughter was suitable for religious life, not only hadn’t been there to support her; she had gone to the police and denounced the sisters, accusing them of keeping her daughter against her will.
“The cops came to get me, because I was 20 years old and a minor at the time,” Sr. Paola explains. At one point her mother even went to protest outside the convent, throwing stones at the windows.
Sr. Paola told her TV interviewer, Serena Bertone:
With the sisters I went to court for the relevant trials. In those corridors I met some young men who were to be interrogated by the judge and they pointed at me, asking me what I had done to be there. I, still a novice, was afraid of those whom I was supposed to help. This fact put me in crisis and, after my profession of vows, I immediately tried to go and visit the inmates in the Regina Coeli prison in Rome.
Fortunately, Sr. Paola persevered in her vocation. She has given very public witness through her presence in the media, which has brought attention not only to her enthusiasm for sports, but also to her extensive work with the poor and suffering. In an interview with reporter Roberto Zichittella of Famiglia Cristiana, she described how she carries out her mission:
In the mornings I teach the children at the Sacred Heart school (…). Then I take care of three shelters. One houses women who are victims of violence, another houses lonely children and teenagers, the third works as a senior center during the day, while in the evening it becomes a soup kitchen. In addition, I volunteer almost every day in the Regina Coeli prison, while every Sunday I go with the solidarity truck to the outskirts of Rome to distribute food and clothing to the neediest people.
Her work has had such an impact that she was granted the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, in a ceremony on June 2, 2021, at which the President of Italy presided. She replied to the news with humility and humor. Famiglia Cristiana reported at the time that when she was given the news over the phone, she replied, “What does this mean? You’re making me a knight? Does that mean you’re giving me a horse?” “I do very normal things that everybody does …”
More than ever, the world needs the witness of dedicated servants of God who can use the media to spread the Gospel, both directly and indirectly. It can be difficult for parents to accept it when one of their children wishes to embrace a religious vocation, but as Sr. Paola shows us, that sacrifice can lead to a positive impact that we would never have imagined.