It was June 28, 1932 when Sister Paula Cordero first stepped foot onto the shore of America.
She spoke no English.
She had no money.
She had no experience.
And she was just 23 years old.
Yet she planted her feet on American soil with lively determination to spread the Gospel to the people of this new land.
Adele Cordero was born Feb 16, 1908 in the Piedmont region of Italy. When she entered the Daughters of St. Paul, she brought with her a nature not unlike St Paul’s himself: strong and determined, warm and loving, and on fire for God. Noticing the similarities between the two characters, as well as Adele’s true devotion to the patron of the community, Mother Thecla decided to give her the profession name of St. Paul. Sister Paula made her first profession in Italy at age 23.
It shocked everyone that Fr. Alberione chose to send this young, inexperienced, barely-professed sister to tackle the daunting task of establishing the Daughters of St. Paul in America. But that young, inexperienced, barely-professed sister had a determination that gushed out from an unshakeable trust in God, and did it ever show!
In the midst of the Depression sweeping the country, and in the midst of disapproving attitudes towards women printing books (traditionally men’s work), Maestra Paula ploughed forward, undaunted by the hurdles she and the first sisters faced, to establish themselves in this new country so as to share the love of Christ with Americans. Fr. Alberione used to say, “begin from the manger,” and the first sisters did just that, establishing their first printing presses in an abandoned barn. Soon, houses for the Daughters of St. Paul began to spring up across the country. Led by Maestra Paula’s daring resolve, the Daughters began to venture into new forms of communication, like radio, sound recordings, and video. With energy and confidence, she left no stones unturned in bringing Christ into the lives of others.
Her love for the local people was tangible, as was her love for the sisters in her care. Many years later, sisters would fondly remember the care she took to support them, from offering words of encouragement after a discouraging day, to making sure that a sister who had just gone to the dentist had soup for lunch when she couldn’t chew the usual sandwich. She led and taught by example, and in turn took much joy in her community.
Maestra Paula was also a notorious prankster. She became famous in the community for one particular joke she would pull on postulants who were new to the Shipping Department. She would find an equally mischievous sister, small enough to slip into a box, and close the lid in a way that made the box appear sealed and ready to be shipped out. Then she would call out to a young, strong postulant to help her move the heavy box. Willingly, the unsuspecting postulant would drop everything to help the older woman with the heavy burden…and everyone else would wait with bated breath… until out of nowhere, a live sister would pop out of the box to the terror of the postulant. Shrieks of both shock and laughter could be heard all around the house.
Maestra, with her booming voice, determined spirit, and motherly nature gained love and respect wherever she went. She inspired perseverance and trust in the hearts of her sisters, and reminded them of the beauty of their calling. “Be humble, be charitable, be faithful, be a Pauline of great faith,” she would say. “Let us never give up the idea of becoming saints.”
Maestra Paula died in the United States on February 13, 1991, three days shy of her 83rd birthday. One of the nurses who attended her in her last days later reflected: “If the adage is true that ‘you die how you live,’ then it must be true that Mother Paula lived a life of love.”