Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Backstage Performances

I intended to tramp down to St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday morning with several of our sisters, to participate in the opening of the World Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization. Sr. Antonieta Bruscato, our superior general, is one of the auditors this week and would lead an intercession in Portuguese during the papal Mass. Since I had spent the previous two days in bed, however, I was in no condition to go anywhere. How does anyone get food poisoning in Italy? Fortunately, I wasn’t down for long. Tomorrow I’m heading to St. Peter’s with a group of us for the opening of the Year of Faith. But that’s news for next week.

Actors get all the press, but we all know that if it weren’t for the hands behind the scenes, they wouldn’t get the accolades—and the cash—that they do. So this week, I want to introduce you to two more American Daughters of St. Paul here at the generalate, offering an insight into how their talents and their vocation support the whole show.

The local superior, “Canadian” Sr. Rosalba Conti, spent sixteen years in Toronto’s Pauline Centre, but hasn’t been available for an interview; her time is not her own. Sr. Monica and Sr. Damien, though, happily managed to fit you and me in.

Sr. Monica Mary Baviera

Originally from Bologna, Italy, Sr. Monica can take credit for introducing me to Italian in 1973 when we both lived in Boston. Reminiscing about her 26 years in the States, she teased that I was “a little girl” back then! She never did make a habit of taking credit for much, though, and isn’t about to start now, especially when she hears my errori in Italian instead.

What she really could take satisfaction in is her service in the Segretariato Internazionale di Spiritualità, where she has served the Congregation for the past 24 years. In the 1980’s this office launched the monumental project of compiling, cataloguing, and transcribing everything that Fr. Alberione and M. Thecla Merlo, our co-foundress, said and wrote to the Daughters of St. Paul. What this has evolved into is amazing! It forms part of the “Opera Omnia,” (literally “total work”), of the founders’ output with respect to all ten branches of the Pauline Family. This huge corpus includes volume upon volume of letters, conferences, meditations, and sermons, plus the several books written by Alberione and the thirty notebooks that contain M. Thecla’s notes and examens of conscience. You can see whichever volumes of Fr. Alberione are available so far, plus thousands of photos, at the Opera Omnia Web site. Until now relatively few volumes have been translated into Portuguese, Spanish, and English. We’re working on it.

Sr. Monica is the second person to be assigned to the task, following Sr. Antonietta Martini, who worked there until her death in 2004. Two others then joined Sr. Monica: 89-year-old Sr. Adeodata (sharp as a tack) and the considerably younger Sr. Maria Grazia. Together they conduct a “hermeneutical interpretation” of early transcriptions and other documents. They research records and notes to establish the authenticity of a particular document, and situate it by determining, as best they can, date, place, listeners, and so on. Sr. Monica explains: “You can’t change the text, but you interpret the text in the notes and so, produce a critical edition, using scientific methods and tools that the members back then didn’t have.”

Fr. Alberione drew from many authors and other sources, but rarely referenced them. Sr. Monica specializes in researching his quotes from Scripture and the Fathers of the Church and translates every Latin citation into Italian. She then compiles indexes of them all for each volume and sees to the introductions. Depending on size and complexity, it takes about a year to complete a volume in this way.

What keeps her “dedicated to the Opera Omnia,” as she says, and to its painstaking work? “Fidelity to my duty and love, because I do like it. It gives me a way to understand our history and the charism of the founder in its Christ-centered theology, Mariology, and above all, apostolic spirituality.”

The Secretariat for Formation, where Sr. Germana works, depends a great deal on Sr. Monica’s labor of love. I know I will during this year of our course.

Sr. Mary Damien Vieira

Sr. Damien translates for the central, or “general,” government of the Daughters of St. Paul and for us Anglophones, who depend on her to get the government’s communiqués in a professional and timely way. Whether it’s a letter from the Superior General or a legal document, a sister’s obituary or a study and prayer guide in preparation for congregational meetings, both we and the general government know it’s going to be top-notch. Disagree with me, but I say she heads the list of our translators for written English.

As we talk she marvels, “I’ve been here 30 years! I left the U.S. just a little more than six years after joining the Congregation. The sisters tell me I’m more Italian than American. I don’t think so! It just happens to be the part of the world I know best after Hawaii.” So, which one does she like better? She’s diplomatic: “Each place is different and special in its own way.”

Her odyssey is a work of grace. The office actually opened just before she was assigned to it. Before that, each circumscription (province or delegation) provided for its own translations. But they contained too many errors. When Sr. Maria Cevolani, our superior general in the 80’s, visited one country and discovered that her advice had been translated exactly opposite of how she had intended, she decided it was high time to ensure that the general government maintained some control over what was sent out in its name.

A sister was promptly introduced to the office. During that time Sr. Damien arrived in Rome on her way to East Africa. She was in Kenya only seven months when she became very sick. She returned to Rome to regain her health. Meanwhile, the sister who had been in the translation office moved on, and Sr. Damien’s return was generally regarded as fortuitous. “I thought of it differently!” she laughs. “I protested that I didn’t know Italian. ‘Don’t worry,’ I was assured, ‘the Holy Spirit will provide.’ I’m glad they’ve come to realize it takes more than the Holy Spirit!”

“I always enjoyed languages,” she continues. “In college I had majored in English and English literature. When I was little, I used to read the dictionary for fun, although I never told anyone; I didn’t want anyone laughing at me.

“I learned Italian by listening to how the sisters constructed sentences. Through toil and tears I learned. Then Sr. Monica Mary arrived, and I ran things by her. The sisters in the circumscriptions were not demanding; they were just happy to finally have someone doing the work.”

One of the pluses of her ministry is in the sisters who receive it. “It’s exciting to see the development in the area of the English language. I’ll always translate like an American. We have many legitimate ways, though, of speaking and writing English—though some may quibble about their legitimacy. People have to be patient, knowing it’s always evolving. We have Indian, Australian (which is definitely not British!), Caribbean, and so much more. Our sisters have reached the point of accepting how English comes in many varieties.”

She won’t do simultaneous translation, though, since it takes a whole different skill set that she feels she doesn’t have. That’s OK; we can forgive an expert.

The biggest problem at this point is deadlines, especially when everyone wants her own work done at the same time. They’re supposed to go to the General Secretary to put it in queue, but some—as everywhere else—bypass the process and try to slip in their letterina or whatever. (“-Ina” or “-ino” is an Italian diminutive; it means “little.” It scales down the request, you see.) Sr. Damien just takes it all in stride. Hawaii in her blood, a generation in Italy, and an enviable spirit of faith make for an combination of unflappable cheer.

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