The Passionists: 150 years in America
by Gerald Laba, C.P.
The tradition and spirit of the Passionist Congregation are rooted in the unique charism given to Paul Francis Daneo, known as Paul of the Cross (illustration, left), born at Ovada, Italy, January 3, 1694. From early experiences of mystical prayer and charitable service, Paul identified the ultimate sign of God's love for the world as the Passion of Jesus. A forty-day retreat (November 23, 1720 - January 1, 1721), during which he kept a spiritual diary and composed a first Rule, marks the birth of his congregation. Initially called 'The Poor of Jesus,' its mission would be to promote a living remembrance of the Passion as a way to seek personal union with God and to reflect upon the meaning of human suffering. With others who shared his vision, Paul pursued this mission through a life structured around prolonged periods of prayer, solitude, and apostolic service. He unfailingly gave priority to the apostolate of the word by proclaiming the Gospel of the Passion, especially to the neglected and the poor.
Following the founder's death (October 18, 1775) the growth of the congregation until 1840 was confined to the area of present day Italy. It was principally the political situation in Europe which delayed further expansion during this peninsular period. With the leadership of Anthony Testa (1839-62), recognized as the second founder (illustration, right), the congregation began to experience a period of universal growth, extending its mission "to Belgium, England, France, Holland, Australia and the United States" 1
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