Spanish saint cared about poor girls’ education

By Tony Staley

St. Paula had to leave school at ten, after her father had died St. Paula Montal Fornes dedicated her life to helping girls and women receive the

St. Paula had to leave school at ten, after her father had died

St. Paula Montal Fornes dedicated her life to helping girls and women receive the education she was denied. She believed it would help solve societal problems.

Paula was born and baptized on the same day late in the 18th century, the eldest of five children of Montal and Vicenta Fornes Montal. Her parents were artisans living in Arenys de Mar, a seaside village in Catalonia, Spain, about 20 miles northeast of Barcelona.

St. Paula Montal Fornes

When: Oct. 11, 1799 – Feb. 26, 1889

Where: Spain

What: Founded Sisters of

            the Pious Schools

Feast: Feb. 26

Canonized: 2001

After her father died when she was 10, Paula joined her mother as a seamstress and lace maker to support the family, cutting short her chance to go to school, a common reality in 19th century Spain. She also helped in her parish by caring for girls and later helped teach the catechism through the Marian Association.

When she was 30, Paula and her longtime friend, Inés Busquets, moved to Figueras, a stronghold known for its weaponry castle, on the border with France. The two women opened a school for girls. It offered a Christian educational program — superior to what boys received — aimed at advancing women, helping families and transforming society by ending the subordination of women.

By 1837, she decided to follow the spirituality of St. Joseph of Calasanz (1556-1648). In 1842, she founded a second school in her hometown, where she worked with the Piarist Fathers of Mataró, the order founded by St. Joseph of Calasanz.

After Paula opened a third school in Sabadell in 1846, Piarist Frs. Jacinto Felíu and Agustín Casanovas helped her set up the Daughters of Mary Religious of the Pious Schools. Her sisters make four vows: poverty, chastity, obedience and education of poor, neglected and homeless girls. Paula, Inés, Felicia Clavell and Francisca de Domingo made vows on Feb. 2, 1847.

From 1829 to 1859, Paula founded seven schools and co-founded four others. She also was in charge of the formation of the congregation’s first 130 sisters.

She founded her final and favorite school in 1859 at Olesa de Montserrat, a poor town at the foot of the Monastery of Our Lady of Montserrat in Barcelona. Paula stayed there until her death 30 years later.

By then, her order had 346 sisters teaching in 19 schools throughout Spain. Today there are more than 800 Sisters of the Pious Schools serving in 9 nations on four continents, teaching some 30,000 students.

Sources: “Butler’s Lives of the Saints”; Catholic Encyclopedia; katolsk.no; saints.sqpn.com; vatican.va.