St. Paul of the Cross

October 19, 2017

The Pastor's Page

St. Paul of the Cross

St. Paul of the Cross

St. Paul of the Cross was born on January 3, 1694, at Ovada, near Genoa, Italy. His birth name was Paolo (Paul) Francesco (Francis) Danei. He was one of sixteen children, and his parents were devout Catholics. His father was a merchant, but he fared badly in business and was unable to send Paul to school.

As a small child whenever he suffered discomfort or cried, his mother would show him a crucifix and reflect with him about the suffering of Jesus on the Cross, and from the beginning of his life he had a great devotion to the Cross. His father would read to him about the lives of the saints. When he was fifteen he heard a sermon that helped him to realize and admit his sins, after which he went to Confession and began a life of strict austerity and prayer, and he afflicted himself with self-mortification like sleeping on the bare floor, sleep deprivation, and self-flagellation.

Paul joined the Venetian army at the age of twenty to fight for the faith and against the Turks in the hope that he would die as a martyr. After one year he came to the realization that military service was not his calling and asked to be discharged, and once his petition was granted, he resumed a life of solitude, prayer, and penance.

In the summer of 1720 he had three visions in which he saw himself clothed in a black religious habit, and in the third vision the Blessed Mother Mary appeared and asked him to found a religious congregation dedicated to the Passion. Paul consulted with his bishop, who was well aware of his holiness, and advised him to move forward. Paul went into seclusion for forty days during which he prayed, ate only bread and water, slept on straw, and wrote the rule of life for his new congregation. Members would take four vows, the usual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but also a special fourth vow to have a deep devotion to the Passion of Jesus, to pray and meditate regularly on his suffering and death on the Cross, and to preach about the Passion.

Passionist Cross

Passionist Cross

Subsequently, Paul and his brother, John, moved to Monte Argentaro, and with two other companions, founded a community, the Discalced Clerks of the Most Holy Cross and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, now commonly known as the Passionists. Paul and his brother were ordained to the priesthood by Pope Benedict XIII at St. Peter’s Vatican Basilica in 1727.

The Passionists embarked on their mission to preach about Jesus’ suffering. They also served the sick and dying with great compassion, brought lapsed Catholics back to the Church, and reconciled sinners through the sacrament of Penance.

Paul’s Rule of Life was given preliminary approval by Pope Benedict XIV in 1741. He was elected the first Superior General in 1747, a positon he held the rest of his life. He traveled widely throughout the Papal States, was a charismatic preacher, generated large crowds, and had a special gift for reconciling sinners. Formal final approval was granted to the Passionist Community by Pope Clement XIV in 1769. Paul subsequently moved to Rome. Under his leadership twelve new communities of men were founded, and in 1771 he founded a cloistered community of Passionist nuns at Corneto.

St. Paul of the Cross became ill in 1772 and died on October 18, 1775, at the age of 80 in Rome, and he was canonized a saint in 1867. He is the patron saint of the Passionist Community. His memorial is not celebrated on his death anniversary like most saints because of the Feast of St. Luke. The universal Church remembers him on October 19, but in the United States, because of the memorial of St. Isaac Jogues and his companions, he is remembered on October 20.

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About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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