AS a teenager growing up in Greenock on the west coast of Scotland, Catherine Skelton felt a strong calling to enter the religious life. Yet the traditional ministries of teaching and nursing held no interest; instead, a book about Blessed James Alberione, founder of the Daughters of St Paul, persuaded her that her future lay in spreading the Good News through communication.
‘I was very impressed by his vision of ministry in the Church,’ she remembers. ‘I set out to find the Sisters in Glasgow and I did and I liked what I saw. At a young, tender age, I asked to join them. I was 18, naïve and enthusiastic.’
Today, more than 30 years on, Sister Catherine is living out this ministry at the ‘Holy Shop’, aka Pauline Books and Media on Bold Street in Liverpool. The Pauline Sisters have been there since 1967 and as the publishing industry has changed, so too the work they do, as Sr Catherine explains. ‘The digital world has affected us but also the whole climate of the Church has affected us and also the fact the Catholic population of Liverpool has decreased considerably,’ she says. ‘Yet there will always be needs to be met – the word of God doesn’t change, what changes is how we communicate it.
‘Our founder’s great vision was that the Bible, the word of God, be available to everyone in whichever form they can access it and we have a very pastoral ministry here,’ she adds, noting how troubled souls will often drop into the shop seeking a quiet word. ‘That is one of the most rewarding things – seeing people turn their lives around in adverse situations, and seeing it change through their faith and connectedness with the word of God. The power of the word does transform people’s lives still today and we are in very privileged position.’
The changing function of St Paul’s bookshop is underlined by the fact the second floor is now free of books. ‘We try to provide alternatives – talks and catechist days,’ she says, and on 18 March it will host a follow-up gathering for those people whose interest in consecrated life was piqued by February’s Living Joyfully event.
Sr Catherine, a member of the Archdiocese’s organising committee for the Year of Consecrated Life, recalls growing up in ‘a Church culture where feeling called to have a vocation was more common than uncommon’. Yet she sees the value in the Samuel groups – promoted by the National Office for Vocation – which give young people considering their calling the opportunity for discussion and reflection; after all, she experienced the original version during two ‘exciting years’ as a novice in Milan in the early 80s. ‘I was fortunate to be in the diocese of Cardinal Martini when he first initiated the Samuel groups in the cathedral.’
From Milan, she moved on to the Pauline Sisters’ ‘international’ communities in Glasgow, London and Slough prior to her arrival in Liverpool in 2012. A keen walker she is enjoying discovering the city’s parks, but her main passion is unchanged: communicating the word of God. ‘Our resources help develop the sacramental life,’ she says. ‘We produce our own material and you see the energy and creativity that goes into creating something that is going to help multitudes of people understand better the sacraments.’
• A follow-up event to Living Joyfully will take place on Wednesday 18 March (6pm) at Pauline Books and Media, 82 Bold Street, Liverpool, L1 4HR.