Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Centers Where the Word Is Made Flesh

This Nativity set filled the window display at the Pauline Books & Media (PBM) Center in Chicago this past Advent and Christmas. A favorite seasonal tradition in Chicago is to go window shopping in the city, so stores, large and small, oblige by decorating to the nines. Sr. Frances A. Obrovac (yes, we’re related; she’s my sister) is assigned to our community there and told me how our staff caught glimpses of the ways this arresting display evangelized people on Michigan Avenue.

Apparently it was common to see people stop in their tracks in front of it and smile wide in sheer joy or wonder. Some panned the scene with video cameras, or had their pictures taken next to it. Parents especially grabbed this made-to-order, teachable moment: while the kids gazed at the figures, parents pointed and talked, no doubt reminding them of the story. One family of six paused, and a girl, maybe nine-years-old, spontaneously held her hands up in prayer.

A display of faith in a business area like the Loop is striking. We North Americans have so departmentalized and even privatized religion that placing it within a commercial setting seems incongruous. Yet, “missionaries to Main Street” is precisely how Blessed James Alberione and Sr. Thecla Merlo envisioned the Daughters of St. Paul and all our co-workers in each PBM Center. People who frequent these Centers get that. Following are eleven of the many comments we’ve received from our guests within the past few years:

Pauline Books and Media is a respite and niche where I find comfort and peace. It is a pool of knowledge where I gain access to the wisdom of God.
Easter A., Hawaii

It is an extension of home, the sisters are welcoming, I know them by name, and they are extremely helpful answering questions and recommending books.
Lucia M., Florida 

Juan Villegas, PBM Chicago,
serves a guest.
 The store you operate in New York City is a great blessing to me. I know that I can get away from my troubles (whether a frustrating day at the office, need for encouragement or spiritual renewal). There is always calming, uplifting music being played, and the staff (the sisters and lay people) are always so helpful!! The store contains items not always obtainable elsewhere. Please pray for me and my intentions, and thanks for all you do to bring the WORD to the world!!
Robert G., New York

A heart doctor from Sweden just came into the book center here. He wanted me to let the sisters know how much he appreciates our mission in Manhattan. He said this is his favorite stop whenever he comes to New York.
Sr. Susan J. Kraus, FSP, New York

It is both an expansive oasis and a barren desert where I can find God in print—a fuel and water station of sorts!  Here the Word of God comes alive and penetrates the heart when one is fully and prayerfully engaged. And the Sisters, heralds of zeal and faithfulness to many!
Isabel G., Florida

Was over at the store today [Redwood City, CA] 09.03.09. No words to describe it. Like a Black Hole, something draws people from the public sidewalk, and once inside, good luck if one can ever escape....The center of this Black Hole is definitely the chapel: one's inner-light is absorbed into this core, one experiences a sort of time warp, that is, we planned to stay only 15 minutes, but when we came out it was really an hour!!!...It's a vortex; one's appetite for physical food disappears. One feels content, satisfied, and full....If one is lucky enough to escape this phenomenon, one feels rejuvenated, young, happy, content, can't stop smiling...a very, very strange and unnatural experience indeed. Please share this feedback with others. I hope I am not the only one to report this mystery.
Paul M., California

A stylish lady in her 40’s came up to the counter, and I rang out her purchases. At the end I invited her to stop in to our beautiful little chapel for a visit with Jesus.
     She said: “Sister, I really can’t stop in today, but I just want to tell you that I was in your chapel another time. At that time, although I tried not to show it, I was having a very bad day. I went in with a terrible problem for which I could see no solution. I got my answer there. Imagine my surprise when I saw it written right on the wall: ‘Do not be afraid! I am with you’” [the words of Jesus to our Founder, Blessed James Alberione, found in many Pauline chapels worldwide].
     The lady patted my hands and whispered, “That made all the difference. Everything worked out.”
Sr. Susan H. Wallace, FSP, Massachusetts, July 15, 2008

When I think of Pauline Books and Media, I think of the centers. I don't think of it as a “brand” like Coca-Cola. I was struck by Sr. Margaret [Obrovac’s] discussion of how the centers are at a point where they need to change, because retail stores no longer function as the primary places where people purchase media. What will a PBM center in the future look like? I ask myself this question as I think about the proposal I want to write for a [Pauline] Cooperator-run PBM center in Wilmington. This question gets to the core of what “Pauline Books and Media means.” It means primarily a mission to evangelize along the lines that Blessed Alberione envisioned. It means a mission to bring to the world the truths, way, and life of the gospel using modern media. How? The “good press” has been a primary means in the Centers, along with a decent collection of music and video. And the future?
Rae S., Delaware

Sr. Anna and a guest in the
PBM Center, Dedham (Boston).
 It is where I can get good books on my faith and to increase my understanding of my Lord and lay ministries duties.
Howard, Hawaii

Pauline Books and Media store is a place where Catholic faith and culture is promoted and nurtured in an increasing secular society. The Daughters of St. Paul have been visible signs of our Catholic faith and help to nurture vocations to the religious life. 
Melissa C., Hawaii

Entering a Pauline Bookstore is like coming to a welcoming home that is my home, also.  Inspiring and instructive books on many topics for all ages, religious articles that enrich our lives, as well as the presence of the Sisters make the Pauline bookstore a special place—a great source of evangelization in this most needy world.  I think that untold lives have been touched by this presence in the midst of the cities where there is a Pauline Bookstore.  
Louise H., Alabama


  1. So, here are a few more thoughts on this ongoing theme -- As I soon as I read the title for this post, I thought "And also, Centers Where the Word Made Flesh Is."

    A tangible part of what makes traditional 'bricks and mortar" PB&M Centers a beacon of light is the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and the opportunity to be in that presence.

    I noted in a comment last night on the PB&M Philadelphia what a wonderful job the Sisters are doing "through their PB&M Without Walls!" (For readers who are not familiar with my reference, currently the Daughters in Philadelphia are not in a fixed location, not in a store so to speak, but rather are carrying out their ministry through visits to parishes, schools, conferences, and other events.)

    Clearly, the Pauline mission of the future will take place "without walls" and "beyond walls," but I honestly believe that there will always be a place, always be a need, for some "brick and mortar" (or other building material) traditional PB&Ms where people can go.

    It is with that balance in mind and spirit that I know the Pauline mission will faithfully, energetically, and powerfully continue to shape the Church and serve the world!

  2. Lisa,
    Nice re-reading of the title.

    The chapel deserves a few words of comment. This is a feature of our U.S./Toronto Centers, but was never required by our founders. The reason we have them has been to allow us to make our daily hour of Eucharistic adoration there during the day, since, unlike our sisters in some other countries (I can speak only of Italy from personal experience) the Centers close from 1:00 to 4:00. This allows them to make it at home after the midday meal.

    Naturally, we open the chapel doors to those who frequent the Center, and so, the Centers' evangelizing service here has evolved to include them. It's worth keeping in mind, however, that Alberione and Thecla Merlo intended the Word of God to be encountered primarily in the person of the sisters and our co-workers and then in the publications, productions, and other services we offer. If this were not so, if the chapel were an essential element of our mission, then we would have to conclude that our Centers elsewhere in the world are not fulfilling their mission if they don't include one, which certainly is not true. Indeed, our own Center in San Diego would be one of them. When it was renovated last year, Bishop Brom asked us not to provide a chapel, since the Center is not staffed by our sisters, but by laywomen, who are not bound by our Constitutions. So, as you say, the Centers are places where the Word-made-flesh is, but in a way that surpasses the conventional understanding of that term without undermining its strictest, theological meaning.

    Regarding bricks and mortar, I'm with you. My sense is that we will continue to have such centers of mission. What they will soon look like and what services they will provide remains to be seen.

    Thank you very much, Lisa, for your insights and especially for your encouragement--always appreciated.

  3. I always had pleasant experiences in our Pauline book store as well. You couldn't help but smile when you went in.


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