Paola Paoli

I was born near Assisi in Central Italy, at a time when people still had a great deal of political and social awareness and were very committed. My family, as almost all those in my village, was politically on the Left, and somewhat anti-clerical. In spite of this my sister and I received all the Sacraments, as my mother said “you never know…”

As an adolescent I gave up studying and went to work in a factory where I got involved in the workers’ struggles. After some years I picked up my studies again and became a nurse, which I loved.

I worked in a hospital which was quite far from my village and I had to live in another town. I got to know other people, very different from those I was used to. Among them was the person who is still my best friend. She was very committed at a faith level; I used to tease her but we were still the best of friends. I came to know what she was interested in, and began to go with her to her prayer meetings. I liked this aspect of Church and began to experience a certain attraction to a life of faith.

I have always loved nature and often felt the need to walk alone on a mountain top. It was suggested to me to go to the Gubbio mountains where some women were living in a Hermitage. These turned out to be very important days for me, during which I had a deep experience of God. After that, I went to the Hermitage as often as I could, eventually deciding to spend a longer time there. I was able to go more deeply into the Bible and my relationship with God, and to look carefully at myself.

After some months I felt ready to return to the world. I needed to work, and wanted to have an experience of sharing life with poorer people. I went to work in the fields picking tobacco leaves, sharing life with young men from North Africa and with poor Italian women. That was when I decided I wanted to become a Sister, living close to people, because people need a closeness to those who in some way represent the Church. It was decision-making time for me. Someone told me about the Ignatian Exercises, introducing me to a Jesuit who invited me to Rome to follow the Exercises. I stayed in a house known as Villa Lante, belonging to the Religious of the Sacred Heart.

At that time the Noviceship was in the little house just beside the main house. The Sisters took in young women and they welcomed me there. I felt very happy with the Sisters. That was in 1994. I knew that the Congregation had just finished a Chapter, and one day I came across a little book on the table about the Chapter and I started to read it. I was caught by what was written in it and when I came to “The Eucharistic Dimension of our Spirituality” I seemed to have found the place where I could live my desire for contemplation and my commitment to the poor.

A few months later I entered the Society of the Sacred Heart. It was not easy for me in the Noviceship, as my parents became ill and died soon after, very close to one another.

My ministry has always been with marginalized people: the homeless, drug addicts, abused children, trafficked women, AIDS victims… Very quickly I came to realize that I needed skills to avoid the pitfall of becoming too over-involved, of ignoring my own needs by focusing on the needs of others: I mean, that in order to be of real help, I needed professional formation and so I went to university and trained as a Professional Educator. 

Before, I met God in nature, in silence and in harmony. With the passing of time I had the grace of discovering God where it might seem that He is not present. There, in misery, violence, poverty… a huge emptiness. However, the greater the emptiness, the greater still did I find the Love of God to fill this emptiness, this vacuum.

I love our charism of discovering and making known His Love. I think that is what the world needs, above all in the difficult times in which we live now. I think it is always a challenge to live it in the present, now, in reality.

I have had the possibility of living in other Provinces of the Society of the Sacred Heart: Chile, Colombia and most recently in Ireland. I feel a gratitude in my heart for the Sisters and other people I have met in each of these. Thanks to technology, some of these relationships are still alive, in spite of time and distance.

From 2012 to 2014 I lived in the Democratic Republic of Congo, working in the refugee Camps with the JRS (Jesuit Refugee Services). Despite having contracted malaria five times, and being in the crossfire of armed conflict, it was a wonderful experience. I have rejoiced in the reality that Love has two facets: giving and receiving. When persons love me so much, this means that they have received Love.

In October 2015 I will begin a new experience with migrants in Sicily. It will be in an international and inter-congregational community, set up by UISG (International Union of Superiors General). There will be three RSCJ from Europe: Florence de la Villeon, Maria Gazcol and myself. It gives me great joy to think of being able to do something in Italy with other sisters, and above all with my own RSCJ sisters. At the moment we are talking a lot in the Society about the reconfiguration of Europe and it seems to me that this situation is signalling the path we should follow: Sisters who respond to a mission, ready and willing to go where people need us. I am grateful to Kathleen Conan, our General Superior, and to Maria Teresa Devoto, the Provincial of Italy, for this opportunity.


Section |Profiles|Year of Consecrated Life

Province |Italy