Teresa Merlo, an intelligent, serious young woman, was born to Ettore and Vincenza Merlo to a family known throughout the town of Castagnito for its farming trade, its law abiding principles and happy family life.
Teresa and her three brothers had the fortune to be taught catechism by their pastor, Father Pistone, but first of all at an early age their basic Christian training in the faith came from their respectable parents.
In the first three years of school, Teresa excelled in her studies and her marks were well above average. Due to poor health, however, it was necessary that she stay at home for her studies after having tried to take her fourth year at Guarene. It was decided that she would study with private teachers and she completed her fourth and fifth year ahead of time.
Being precocious, intelligent and nurturing her prayer life, she was able to receive her first holy communion at the age of eight and her confirmation at the age of thirteen. Eventually, the role of catechist and her singing with the church choir was taken on along with the use of her skills in sewing. It was at this time that she became a teacher of sewing and many times her “school of sewing” was chosen because of her gentle spirit and mannerly ways.
At this time in the new century, modernism was on the rise and many people had not enough religious background in the faith. One of her brothers, Giovanni Battista, had recently gotten into a lively discussion with two soldiers who were seminarians, regarding questions about the faith. They were astounded at his knowledge. He had learned his faith from his parents and Father Pistone. Father James Alberione came to hear of this and was anxious to meet Teresa the sister of Giovanni Battista, for he heard much about the Merlo family from the two seminarian soldiers who knew them well.
One of Teresa’s brothers, Costanzo Leone, was a student at the seminary at the time where Father Alberione resided and taught. Teresa had now become well known as an excellent catechist. He was anxious to meet her because he wanted to ask her to consider teaching sewing and catechism in a newly opened workshop in Alba.
On Sunday, June 27, 1915 Father James Alberione met first with Teresa’s mother Vincenza and then with Teresa. He explained his ideas with them separately, to begin a workshop of sewing clothing for the army. Teresa already had a little group of women started who were of like mind and wholesome ideals.
Would her spiritual qualities and competence as a guide be something that would be put to good use in the future for this band of women who were dedicated to teaching catechism and to maintaining themselves through their sewing? Would Teresa’s desire to be a sister come true through this new experience?
“The power idea, which must animate us, is the thought of souls. We must be concerned about how we are to teach people and bring them the word of truth and salvation.” His concern was for the salvation of souls.