St. Paul of the Cross


St. Paul Danei was one of the outstanding home missionaries of the 18th century, and the Passionists, the religious order that he founded, have since then continued his tradition of parish missions around the world.

Paul Francis Danei was born near Genoa, Italy, on January 3, 1694. His parents, though of noble background, had to struggle to raise their 16 children, and because of their budgetary problems, Paul, the second oldest, had to curtail his schooling, and even, on one occasion, had to pawn his own possessions to assist them. Yet Luke and Anna Maria Danei gave to their brood a still greater treasure: a strong religious sense. His mother, in fact, taught Paul Francis to fervently love the cross. Whenever he was pained or frustrated, she would show him a crucifix and remind him how Jesus bore His own cross to Calvary.

When he was 15, young Danei heard a sermon that made him aware that he was not corresponding sufficiently to God’s grace. He therefore made a general confession and began a program of intensive prayer and mortification. His gift of leadership now began to show itself. He induced his younger brother, John Baptist Danei, to join him in his project, and soon he had persuaded several other teenagers to join them. Of these recruits several eventually entered religious orders.

Just where God was leading Paul, however, did not at once appear. In 1714 he enlisted in the Venetian army to fight against the Moslem Turks, a cause promoted by Pope Clement XI. But a year of soldiering convinced him that he was not called to the military life. He decided against marrying, declined to accept a generous inheritance, and began to lead the life of a quasi-hermit in his own home, devoting himself to constant prayer.

During the summer of 1720, Paul received three extraordinary visions. In them he was shown a black religious habit bearing a breastbadge inscribed with a white heart and cross and the words, “The Passion of Jesus Christ.” Our Lady, dressed in this garb, appeared to him and instructed him to found a religious congregation dedicated to constant mourning for the passion and death of her Son.

Now the career of Paul Danei became clear. He wrote a monastic rule of life, and in 1727, with papal permission, having received, with his brother, ordination to the priesthood, he launched the Passionists, officially called “The Congregation of Discalced Clerks of the Most Holy Cross and Passion of our Lord.” This religious order aimed to preserve the austerity of the hermit life and at the same time to heal souls by reminding them of the debt they owed to the passion and death of Jesus. In preaching parish missions internationally and by offering their own austere example as well as the word of God, the Passionist Fathers achieved amazing success in bringing people back to God. One interesting phase of their campaign was their constant prayer for the conversion of England, begun by the founder in 1720. Significantly, it was a Passionist, Bl. Dominic Barberi, who in 1845 received the Anglican convert John Henry Newman into the Church.

St. Paul of the Cross also established the Passionist nuns, a strictly cloistered congregation. An able administrator and an influential guide of souls, he continued to be the recipient of astonishing spiritual graces up to the end of his life - a life fraught, incidentally, with great difficulties, but fortified by faith. The self-sacrificing priest, both organizer and mystic, died at 80, and was canonized in 1867, eight years short of the centenary of his death.

In reading the lives of the male and female saints who have received mystical graces and powers like healing and prophecy, we may wonder why God has not given more of us a share of such gifts.

One reason, doubtless, is that you and I are not so prayerful as the canonized saints have been. A surer reason is that God gives graces as He chooses, and is not bound to explain His generosities to the rest of us.

But finally, we must remember that the more “extravagant” graces are bestowed not for the benefit of the recipients so much as for the benefit of others.

Thus the visions God granted to Paul of the Cross did not make him holier per se, but impelled him to remind all of us of what too often we forget, that Christ died a bitter death to save us.

--Father Robert F. McNamara