Saint Paula Montal Fornés
Paula Montal Fornés dedicated her life to educating and teaching the Catholic faith to girls and women. She was born in Barcelona, Spain, in 1799, the eldest of five daughters. Her parents were artisans living in Arenys de Mar, a seaside village about 20 miles northeast of Barcelona.
Paula’s father died when she was only 10 years old, a misfortune that compelled Paula to abandon her schooling and work with her mother as a seamstress and lace maker to support the family. Though bitterly disappointed that she could not attend school, Paula tried to educate herself and help out in her parish when she could by caring for girls and later teaching catechism.
In 1829, when she was 30, Paula and her longtime friend, Inés Busquets, moved to Figueras, a town on the French border, and opened a school for girls that also offered special skills training and formation in the Catholic faith.
By 1837, Paula began to embrace the spirituality of St. Joseph of Calasanz, a Spanish priest who, 200 years earlier, founded the Pious Schools, schools that educated boys from poor families. In 1842, she founded a second school in her hometown, aided by priests of the Piarist Fathers of Mataró, the order founded by St. Joseph of Calasanz.
After Paula opened a third school in 1846, Piarist priests helped her set up a religious order, the Daughters of Mary Religious of the Pious Schools. Members of the order make four vows: poverty, chastity, obedience and education of poor, neglected and homeless girls. Paula, Inés and two others made vows in 1847. She became responsible for the formation of the young women who wanted to join the Daughters of Mary. Her holiness and commitment inspired many young women to join.
Between 1829 and 1859, Paula would establish seven schools and cofound four others. An impoverished section of Barcelona was identified as the last school she would establish in 1859. She would remain there for the remaining 30 years of her life. By then, her order had attracted more than 300 women religious who were teaching in 19 schools throughout Spain.
Paula Montal died in 1889. She was canonized by Saint John Paul II at Saint Peter’s Basilica in 2001. At about that time there were more than 800 women in her community teaching in nine countries across four continents. Her feast day is February 26.