Saint Paul of the Cross
About me: The future founder of the Passionist Congregation of priests, brothers, and nuns was born in Ovada, northern Italy, in 1694. Paul Danei was the eldest of six children and as a young man the main support of his father’s dry goods business. In his early childhood, his mother used to gather the children at her knee each day, telling them gospel stories, especially the details of Jesus’ Passion and death, as well as the lives of the saints, including the desert fathers.
Anna Maria probably had no inkling how her Paul remembered and pondered these stories, as they resonated with the grace of God in his young soul. Gradually, Paul and his brother, John Baptist, found their own desert in the family attic, where they prayed and imitated those ancient desert ascetics, even as the presence of God was becoming the center of their young lives.
Since the family fortunes varied, Paul’s teenage years passed as a “working student,” learning some Latin and Christian doctrine as he could. Whether at this time or in later life, Paul fed his soul on the writings of Saint Francis de Sales, Saint Teresa of Avila, and Saint John of the Cross, books that gave him the language and understanding of mysticism.
One milestone marked his first conversion: the impact of a priest’s sermon. Those words preached at Mass pierced his young heart, setting him on fire with love for God. Paul always called that sermon his “conversion.” Subsequently, he renounced the bequest of his uncle’s estate and declined a prearranged marriage.
As time passed, Paul's spirituality matured, but still he discerned no clear call. He became afflicted by a trial of relentless scruples, with severe temptations against faith. Paul prayed, did penance, but relief was long in coming.
Then, world events shook all of Italy: The Turks declared war on Venice, the pope summoned a crusade, and Paul signed up—a chance to suffer martyrdom for the faith. Even before embarking, as he was praying in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, the Lord let Paul know that being a soldier was not exactly what he had in mind for him. So, armed with discharge papers, Paul returned home to pick up where he had left off, and to wait, wait, wait, for a clear indication of God’s holy will.
I belong to: The Passionist Congregation.
My vision: In 1718, when Paul was 24, the Blessed Virgin Mary took his life into her own hands, appeared to him clothed in black, with the sign of the Passion sign over her heart, and told him to gather companions and preach God’s love to the people. Every uncertainty in Paul’s heart melted, his soul glowed with love, and he broke into a flood of tears—at last: blessed assurance. Other visions followed, as did intense interior trials, but Paul claimed the grace Mary gave him, was clothed as a hermit by his bishop, and made a solitary retreat of 40 days during which he wrote a rule for the community Mary had asked him to found.
Paul lived to be 82, after he had founded many monasteries of Passionist men and one for the Passionist nuns in 1771. And in every one of his monasteries, he loved to pray in the attic!
Details of Saint Paul's life drawn from Rev. Gabriele Cingolini, C.P. and compiled by the The Passionist Nuns of Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania.
Feast day: October 19