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Saint Paul of the Cross

Saint Paul of the Cross
  • Century: 17th & 18th Century
  • Patronage: Founder of the Passionists
  • Feast Day: October 20th

St. Paul of the Cross was born Paolo Francesco Danei, on January 3, 1694 in Piedmont, Italy.  He was from a wealthy merchant family, and experienced a conversion to a life of prayer at the age of 19.  His conversion started from studying the writings of St. Francis de Sales and from the direction he received from priests of the Capuchin Order.  They taught him the need to go beyond our own images of God.  St. Paul’s lifelong conviction was that we most easily could find God, in the Passion of Christ.  He believed that the Passion of Christ was the most overwhelming sign of God’s love for us, and at the same time, it was the door to union with Him.  He spent his life bringing this message to all.  

When he was 26, Paul had a series of prayer experiences, which made it clear that God was inviting him to form a community who would live the evangelical life and promote the love of God revealed in the Passion of Christ.  In a vision, he saw himself clothed in the habit he and his companions would wear; a long, black tunic on the front of which was a heart surmounted by a white cross.  In the heart was written “The Passion of Jesus Christ”.  He also heard these words spoken to him, “This is to show how pure the heart must be that bears the holy name of Jesus graven upon it”.  

Paul desired to become a Priest, and desired to form his community, which later came to be known as the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ, or the “Passionists”.  With the encouragement of his Bishop, he was clothed in the black habit, and wrote the rule of his new community.  His first companion was his own brother, John Baptist, who was ordained to the priesthood with Paul by Pope Benedict XIII in June of 1727, in St. Peter’s Basilica.  After Ordination, they devoted themselves to preaching missions in parishes, particularly in remote country places, where there were insufficient priests.  Their preaching apostolate and retreats they gave in seminaries and religious houses brought their mission to the attention of others, and the community began to grow.  His goal in formation was, “Man totally God-Centered, totally apostolic, a man of prayer, detached from the world, from things, from himself, so he may in all truth be called a disciple of Jesus Christ”.  Members of his community were committed to three hours of contemplative prayer a day.  

During his lifetime, St. Paul was best known for his preaching and spiritual direction.  More than two thousand of his letters of spiritual direction have been preserved.  He died October 18th, 1775.  By the time of his death the Congregation had grown to one hundred and eighty fathers and brothers, living in twelve houses, mostly in the Papal States. There was also a Monastery of Contemplative Sisters in Corneto, founded a few years before his death to promote the Passion of Jesus by their life of prayer and penance.  He was beatified in 1852, and canonized in 1867.  

Practical Take Away 

St. Paul of the Cross was a mystic and the founder of the Passionist Congregation.  He came to understand that one could easily find union with God, by meditating on the overwhelming love of God, through the passion of Christ.  His entire work was to preach and have retreats, based on teaching the Passion of Christ.  He was best known for his preaching and spiritual direction.  More than two thousand of his letters of spiritual direction have been preserved.  One would do well for their spiritual growth, to follow his example and meditate on the Passion of Christ.