Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Field Trip for the School of the Master

When people other than the cynics of the world hear “trade show,” they usually don’t think “Catholic Church.”

Now, if they’re Daughters of St. Paul, the religious venue is pretty much all they think of. The Religious Booksellers Trade Exhibit (RBTE) and the Catholic Marketing Network (CMN) yearly see Pauline participation. Secular/religious shows like the centuries-old Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany draw Pauline women and men internationally. Add to them Catholic conferences that host exhibitions on the scale of trade shows, like the annual Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, CA, with its 40,000 participants from all over the world, plus scores of smaller diocesan or regional gatherings that include exhibitors, and it’s no wonder “trade show” means something to us other than the usual commercial enterprise.

Sister Martha offers a
PBM giveaway.
So last year in New Orleans, when we heard the National Catholic Educators Association (NCEA) announce its plans to grace Boston with its presence this year, we were delighted. According to its mission statement, NCEA exists to provide “leadership, direction and service to fulfill the evangelizing, catechizing and teaching mission of the Church.” Exhibitors assist them in doing that, and, as always, the Daughters were happy to lend a hand. At the same time, holding the conference in the town where Pauline Books & Media’s main offices are located afforded an opportunity at least to some in our publishing house to glean information and ideas from participants, workshop presenters, and other exhibitors alike.

Sr. Mary Joseph Peterson, a PBM artist and designer, grins as she describes her expedition through the three exhibit halls: “Company reps would start talking to me as if I were a teacher. When I told them I was a book designer and was studying their books, they’d leave me alone. Some would walk away laughing to themselves.”

Sr. Christina Miriam Wegendt, PBM children’s editor, spent most of her workshop time on the librarian’s track. “One presenter reviewed about a hundred Y/A (young adult) titles,” she said. “It was great to see what’s out there. I spend a good part of my time reading what’s available, what people are writing about for teens and how they’re writing it. So I found this workshop very helpful and exciting.”

Sr. Mary Martha Moss, director of our PBM centers, comments on her experience at our booth: “We really showcased PBM; we have a lot to offer people. I got pulled into the display at the last minute; I was never supposed to go. It was fun to be there! We have a lot of great teachers in this area. It was good to mingle with them, to hear their concerns and their needs for their students.”

Those teachers represent a cross section of grade levels. They and others from various parts of the country are ready to give feedback on manuscripts to PBM’s editorial department. They agreed to review books for possible publication, and some are willing to write endorsements. Their geographic perspectives, plus their professional blessing, will give titles additional credibility and ensure that we’re meeting the needs of students and educators alike.

Sr. Margaret Timothy Sato and Sr. Bridget Ellis from our Pauline Studios roamed the exhibition halls, too. Besides picking up useful information, they made some promising contacts.

While consultation makes good business sense, the Daughters have another reason for plunging into an opportunity like this: a strong element of our spirituality and charismatic tradition. Our founder, Blessed James Alberione, called it studiosità. Translated from his native Italian, it literally means “studiosity,” not a word you or I probably ever use. In our sense, it means the ability to learn from everything and everyone, an openness to what’s new, and a proclivity for absorbing whatever will improve the effectiveness of our mission, because Jesus Christ, our Master (or Teacher), uses these means to lead us in discipleship and apostleship.

One of the most striking examples of studiosità I ever came across was in the testimony of Sr. Timothea Jovine, the Daughter of St. Paul who in the 1950’s served as costume director for San Paolo Film, which even then was a credible pioneer in media evangelization. Already a good seamstress, she was assigned to her position without formal training. (In the days before film schools, even the great names in cinema, like Federico Fellini, learned on the job.) In post-war Italy, money was even more scarce than it was before. Yet, our co-foundress, Sr. Thecla Merlo, managed to buy her a thirty-volume set of books on costumes and costume design. Sr. Timothea picked up another twelve-volume collection in Spanish, then, besides haunting the National Library, set about learning from everything in sight, including the mosaics and frescoes adorning Rome’s churches.

Sisters Emily, Maria Kim, and Christina
ready to serve at the J-Club booth

The legacy left by mentors like this trickles out into the way we carry out our mission, into what we produce, and how we offer it. At NCEA, both Sr. Christina and Sr. Emily Beata Marsh, assistant children’s editor, also helped marketer Sr. Maria Kim-Ngan Bui at our J-Club booth (“J” for “Jesus”). They noted how many of the 8,000 educators in attendance stopped by to thank them for inaugurating the only Catholic school and religious education book fair in the country. Sr. Martha, who also helped out there, recalls one librarian complaining that she has to defang the inventories of other book fair suppliers: “You don’t know how many boxes I’ve had to put under the table, because the books are not suitable for our children.” Then came her PBM endorsement: “I don’t have to worry with yours.”

About half of those who signed up for a J-Club Introductory Kit were drawn to it because they recognized our materials: “I’m familiar with your books. Where do I sign up?” was the refrain Sr. Maria Kim heard over the course of the conference’s three days. A total of 170 schools applied for an Introductory Kit. Two scheduled a book fair on the spot—decidedly not the norm for schools, which usually funnel new project ideas through a complex network of educators, librarians, and administrators. By contrast, two weeks ago at the Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, CA, which attracts a wide array of Church ministers, especially parish DREs and catechists, seventeen religious education programs booked a J-Club fair.

The sisters offered NCEA educators a J-Club sticker to attach to their lapels, and many complied good-naturedly: “Oh, sure, I’ll wear your sticker!” “I just love J-Club!”

On the PBM side of the booth, Bible-oriented titles, lives of saints, Rosary resources, posters, and kids’ music were the materials most in demand. Favorite CDs were God, Butterflies, and Miracles, Volume 1, as well as Volume 2. One teacher has a unique use for one of the songs: She teaches pronouns with it!

Our outreach wasn’t limited to a booth space, either. FSP vocation director Sr. Margaret Michael Gillis led the presentation, “God Calling in Cyberspace: A Media Workshop on Vocations.” Even among the laity, religious life has its cult following, and the twelve “apostles” who attended were definitely devoted. Lay teachers generally feel uncomfortable explaining a vocational choice to their students that they’re unfamiliar with, and this session was designed to put them more at ease with introducing it to the digital natives in their classrooms.

One of PBM’s authors, Kimberly Schuler, borrowing from her children’s book, I Will Remember You: My Catholic Guide Through Grief,  conducted a workshop about children and loss. Attendance was more than expected—85 educators, counselors, and principals—and attested to an often unrecognized need. Of course her book sold.

Next year, NCEA flies south once again, this time to Houston. When I asked Sr. Martha about her hopes for PBM there, she exclaimed in the south Louisiana accent she never completely shed—or wanted to: “I hope I’m goin’!


  1. Hi Sr. Margaret Joseph--what a wonderful coverage of the Boston NECA--I read about it in
    my Plot newspaper, but not the intimate detailed
    way you explained it--Thank you--wish we got to
    talk more about it at our Friday night CINEMA DIVINA CLASSIC WISDOM COLLECTION movie series.
    Especially,the DSP involvement:-Pauline Books & Media(PBM)/J-Club Booth and all the meaningful encounters, exchanges with Teachers, etc.
    God Bless your Catholic Media Mission--Love Mom Burns


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