CHARLESTON — Few people who pass by the Pauline Books and Media bookstore at 243 King Street realize a peaceful garden, with space for prayer and rest, can be found at the back. It’s just one part of the multi-faceted facility run by the Daughters of St. Paul, which also includes a chapel, a meeting area, storage space and the sisters’ convent.
The Daughters hosted a “tea garden” from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on March 19 to give the public the chance to visit the store and garden. They were served a complimentary cup of tea and dessert, and learned more about the Daughters of St. Paul and their work in Charleston. The event was free, but visitors could make donations to help the sisters with needed repairs and renovations.
“We really want and need to let people know who we are and what our mission is,” said Sister Jane Livingston, a member of the order of Pious Daughters of St. Paul, during a break in the activity.
“This was a creative idea put forth by some local women who volunteer with us. It’s a chance for people to see what we have here and know that we’re still here and ready to serve the Diocese of Charleston.”
Sister Jane said it is important to promote the sisters’ work because the building is in need of repairs. One of the most urgent matters are problems with mold and water damage on the second floor.
The slumping economy also makes it more challenging for Daughters of St. Paul all over the United States to make ends meet.
“We’re doing a little self-promotion because we want to let people know all the facets of our mission, and it’s important to be able to show we’re a vibrant location,” she said. “When you do the work we do, it’s hard to quantify the good done because it’s not something like a Mother Teresa, where you can point to an orphanage that’s been built.
“Our main mission is to educate people in the Catholic faith and spirituality, and it’s difficult to show people results when your mission is a corporal work of mercy like ours.”
The Daughters of St. Paul, an order of nuns whose charism is spreading the Gospel through books and other media, have been at the King Street site since 1985. Parts of the building date from 1838, and it was originally owned by Siegling Music House.
The Daughters of St. Paul serve in the Diocese of Charleston and throughout North Carolina, Georgia, southeastern Tennessee and northern Florida.
Sister Jane and three other sisters live and work in the building. Two of them, Sisters Clare Kralovic and Elizabeth DeDomenico, travel around the Southeast providing Catholic books and other resources to parishes and schools.
The Daughters of St. Paul bookstore is one of only a few Catholic bookstores in the Diocese of Charleston. Some of the areas the store serves have no other access to the resources the sisters provide, Sister Jane said.
Sister Jane and Sister Deborah Dunevant stay in Charleston to work at the bookstore and provide other services to people seeking spiritual guidance.
“We’re a walk-in clinic of the soul,” said Sister Jane. “People don’t have to make appointments to come in here. People come by who are looking for resources, while some just want to talk to somebody or need a quiet place to pray.”
The garden is a peaceful enclave at the back of the convent, framed on three sides by two-story walls. Bamboo trees wave in the breeze, and carefully designed beds of small green and flowering plants border the walkway.
The garden was unusable for a time after a gazebo roof collapsed in 2006 and some fast-growing bushes overtook one of the walls. Through the work of volunteers, it was redesigned and reopened in 2007 for the sisters’ use and for visits by the public.
Sister Jane said Catholic groups visiting Charleston use the garden for lunch or prayer time, and store patrons often sit there for quiet time or to peruse some of the shop’s reading materials.
The Daughters of St. Paul host weekly events for students from the nearby College of Charleston, including an ecumenical discussion session for young women who read Scripture, pray together and talk about their lives; a Thursday night Adoration hour in the building’s chapel; a bi-weekly Bible study; and a monthly lecture series titled “Why Catholic?” at which priests and laity discuss various facets of the Catholic faith.
Sister Jane said several students who were not Catholic joined the church or started RCIA training after they attended the sessions.
Rosalee Donahue, a resident of Isle of Palms, helped organize the tea garden after Sister Jane spoke about the sisters and their needs at a prayer group meeting at Stella Maris Church on Sullivans Island. Volunteers prepared desserts, provided the tea and helped serve customers. Donahue said she is organizing daily tea gardens to be held during this year’s Spoleto Festival.
“I have been coming to the store for years, and I just want others to realize what a special place this is,” she said. “I’ve come for books, for spiritual reading, to purchase gifts, to pray in the chapel. Sometimes there aren’t words to describe the feeling you get here. It’s such a place of peace and reflection, and you don’t expect to find peace like that along busy King Street.”
The Daughters of St. Paul’s bookstore, chapel and garden are open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
To learn more about the Daughters of St. Paul, visit www.pauline.org or www.daughtersofstpaul.org.