Today is a special day for Passionists in North America. It is the feast day of St. Paul of the Cross, founder of the Passionists in 1720. We honor his memory and the gift that he and his followers are to the Church. Next year we will celebrate the 300th anniversary of the founding of our Congregation.
Paul Daneo was born in Ovada, Italy on January 3, 1694. He had a religious conversion experience as a teenager, and sought to know God’s will for his life. On November 20, 1720 Paul was clothed with a black religious robe by Bishop Francesco Di Gattinara, and he began a 40 day retreat during which he wrote the original rule of the Congregation. Paul was known for his humility and obedience to local bishops who allowed him to teach and preach as a lay person in their dioceses. In 1725 Paul received permission to gather followers from the pope, the first of whom was his brother, John Baptist. The Passionists were officially approved as a religious congregation in 1741.
Paul and his companions lived poorly and utilized many penitential practices. Community prayer and private meditation were a significant part of their daily schedule. Paul was blessed by God with deep mystical experiences of the passion of Jesus for much of his life. This hunter of souls traveled by foot to the towns and villages of Italy to conduct what we call parish missions today, and excelled in proclaiming the love of the God in the passion of Jesus. The anointed preaching by Paul moved hearts and brought about many religious conversions.
Paul was very generous in giving time for spiritual direction mostly through correspondence. Fortunately about 2000 letters are in existence which testify to the wisdom and compassion of this holy man of God. Here are some samples of his spiritual advice.
The passion of Jesus is the greatest and most overwhelming work of God’s love… The passion of Christ is an ocean of sorrow, but all the more it is an ocean of love.
The most efficacious means to root out vices and to plant true piety is meditation on the bitterest suffering of our divine Savior.
When you are walking alone lift up your spirit and listen to the sermon preached to you by the flowers, the trees, the shrubs, the sky and the whole world. Notice how they preach to you a sermon full of love, of praise of God, and how they invite you to glorify the greatness of the Creator who has given them being.
Make for yourself a most beautiful retreat in the deepest part of your spirit, and in this sacred desert commune with God, one on one, adoring him is spirit and in truth.
In 1771 Paul established the Passionist Nuns in Tarquinia, Italy, a contemplative community who would mourn the passion of Jesus by their spirit of prayer, penance and solitude. A convent was established in Carrick in the Diocese of Pittsburgh in 1910.
After a long and fruitful career as a founder, preacher, spiritual director, and confidant of popes, Paul died on October 18, 1775. He was canonized by Pope Pius IX on June 29, 1867.
May the Passion of Jesus Christ be always in our hearts. May the victory of Jesus be ever on our lips.