Indian Paulines mourn Filipina pioneer

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MUMBIA, India, March 21, 2014 — Sister Paola Perez Floria died Thursday, March 20, in the congregation’s Indian headquarters in Mumbai. She was 92. The death came just eight days ahead of the 69th anniversary of her joining a convent after running away from home.

Hundreds of people from all religions and section of society turned up for the nun’s funeral and burial on Friday. “Our chapel and adjacent foyer were overflowing with mourners during the funeral mass,” Sister Clare Ukken, the Indian provincial, told Matters India.

Sr. Paola was a pioneering presence for the Paulines in India. (Photo credit: mattersindia.com)

The nun was buried at a section reserved for the Pauline family in the Sewri Christian cemetery near Parel, a Mumbai suburb.

Sister Paola came to India in October 1951, just two months after the congregation opened its first house in the country.

The Filipina nun, who was fondly called Sister Paola, “was a real Pauline who inspired several generations of Indian nuns with her hard work, dedication and humor,” said Sister Ukken, who knew the pioneer nun from 1967 when she joined their Delhi house as a candidate for religious life.

Before sending her to India, Father James Alberione, the founder of the congregation, had told the young Filipina that she had to take the initiative to open at least 40 or more houses since the country was as big as a continent, said the congregation’s superior general Sr. Anna Maria Parenzan in her condolence message.

“Sr. Paola became an Indian among the Indians, accompanying the birth and development of our Pauline presence in that country, offering every step she took on propaganda for vocations,” said the general who attended the funeral.

“Sr. Paola infected others with the joy of living,” Sister Parenzan said. “It was wonderful to carry out the apostolate with her because her face, always illuminated by a smile, spread good humor everywhere.”

The Filipina nun also diffused “a spirit of serenity until the last day of her life, warmly welcoming everyone who visited her, even though her physical condition continued to decline due to kidney blockage and other complications linked to advanced age.”

A day before her death, she told a visiting Hindu friend, “Pray for me because I have to go now. I have an appointment with the One I love.”

Sister Ukken recalled going with Sister Paola for house visits carrying heavy bundles of books. “Although we were young, we got tired fast, but Sister Paola kept encouraging us with her jokes and funny anecdotes while carrying heavier loads,” the Indian nun recalled.

Sr. Paola visited schools, families and institutes of Kolkata (then Calcutta), Bangalore and New Delhi, where she was stationed for more than 25 years. “She had a rare gift for establishing warm relations with all sorts of people, including police officers and military personnel, and would find ingenious ways to obtain permission to carry out the Pauline mission in unthinkable places,” the superior general said.

Sister Parenzan said, Sister Paola was born in Casiguran, Philippines, on January 18, 1922. She wanted to be a missionary and decided to join the Paulines after a chance meeting with Sister Melania, a missionary, in a market.

“She had to run away from home because the aunt with whom she had lived since the age of ten (following the death of her mother) did not look favorably upon the Daughters of St. Paul,” the superior general said.

Sr. Paola entered the congregation in Lipa on March 28, 1943. She was sent to Staten Island as a postulant to spend a few months carrying out capillary diffusion. “The experience ignited in her a great zeal for the apostolate of visiting the families with a bag overflowing with books,” the superior general said.

She made her first profession on March 19, 1948. (mattersindia.com)

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