A Brief Biography
of St. Paul of the Cross
Paolo Danei Massari
was born in Ovada, Italy the 3rd January 1694. His family later moved
to Castellazzo Bormida, not far from his birthplace. His mother taught
him from an early age that the strength to overcome any and all difficulties
in life was to be found in the Passion of Jesus Christ. Inflamed with
love for Jesus Crucified since his early childhood, Paul wished to dedicate
his entire life to Him. One time, seriously ill, he had a vision of
hell which completely terrorized him. On a later occasion, during a
sermon, he felt himself inspired by the Lord to the love of Christ Crucified;
he referred to that moment as the time of his "conversion".
Between 1715-1716, desirous
of serving Christ, he went to Venice to enlist in the army. Inspired
by the ideals of a crusade, he wished to fight against the Turks who
were threatening Europe. One day, while in adoration before the Blessed
Sacrament, he was made to understand that this was not his vocation.
He then resigned from the army but remained for a while in Venice, at
the service of a family he knew. He later returned to his home. Even
though his priest uncle had left him an inheritance that he might marry,
Paul renounced any such intention.
make memory of the Crucified. According to one witness, it was in
a vision he had of the Blessed Virgin that Paul came to recognize the
habit, the sign and the kind of life he was to lead, a life totally
committed to Jesus Crucified. Having consulted with several prudent
confessors, the Bishop of Alessandria, Mons. Gattinara, vested Paul
with the Passionist habit on the 22nd November 1720. Paul then spent
the next forty days in the sacristy of the church of St. Charles in
Castellazzo. His experiences and the state of his soul during that "forty
days" is made known to us in the "Spiritual Diary". During
that retreat he also wrote the Rule for possible future companions to
whom he refers as "The Poor of Jesus". On a visit, his brother,
John Baptist, asked to join him but Paul refused his request, at least
for the moment.
At the end of this experience,
the bishop authorized him to live in the hermitage of St. Stephen in
Castellazzo and to engage in the apostolate as a layman. During the
summer of 1721 Paul went to Rome with the intention of having an audience
with the Holy Father that he might reveal his inspiration concerning
the future Congregation. The officials at the Quirinal, the then residence
of the Popes, would not permit him entrance, thinking he was some kind
The first Passionist
vow. Accepting this humiliation in imitation of Jesus Crucified,
he went to the basilica of St. Mary Major and, before the image of Our
Lady "Salus Populi Romani, took the vow to consecrate himself to
promoting the memory of the Passion of Jesus Christ.
On his journey home he stopped
at Orbetello for a while, at the hermitage of the Annunciation on Mount
Argentario. Arriving at Castellazzo he was joined by his brother John
Baptist. They then immediately left for Mount Argentario, to live there
as hermits. Later, at the invitation of Bishop Pignatelli, they went
into hermitage at Madonna della Catena, Gaeta. Bishop Cavalieri next
permitted them to live in Troia for a while. They later returned to
the diocese of Gaeta at the shrine of Our Lady of Civita, Itri. Their
every attempt to found a community ended up in failure. In order to
preach the Passion they had to be ordained priests and so they next
went to Rome.
While studying theology
there, they also ministered to those infected with skin diseases in
the hospital of San Gallicano. The brothers had the occasion to speak
with the Holy Father when he visited the church of the Navicella on
the Celian hill and he orally granted them permission to make a foundation
on Mount Argentario. In 1727, ordained priests, the brothers left Rome
to live at Mount Argentario.
To preach the Passion
of Christ. They initiated their apostolate among the local fisherman,
woodsmen and shepherds, etc. They were soon joined by other companions,
among them their brother Antonio and some others who were already ordained
priests. The bishops requested them to preach parish missions in the
local towns. When war broke out in the Garrison States, Paul ministered
to the sick and wounded of both armies, his presence always welcomed.
The first retreat, dedicated
to the Presentation, was inaugurated in 1737. Paul later presented Rome
with the new Rule of the young Congregation. After making some mitigation,
Benedict XIV gave his approval in 1741.
Our Founder was a contemporary
of other outstanding, saintly preachers such as St. Leonard of Port
Maurice, whom he met on one occasion, and St. Alphonsus Liguori with
whom he was acquainted. Like them, he too, for love of Jesus Crucified,
was filled with zeal for the preaching of parish missions.
Though he had held the office
of Superior General from 1747 onward, he never stopped preaching missions
or writing letters of spiritual direction. The Institute did encounter
much opposition on the part of some sectors of the Church for which
reason some of the projected foundations had to be delayed until a pontifical
commission passed favorable judgment on the Passionists.
Counseled by and with the
good example of his brother John Baptist, Paul constantly endeavored
to preserve the spirit of solitude, poverty and prayer. When John Baptist
died in 1767, Paul felt he had been abandoned, left an orphan.
women. A country girl, Lucia Burlini, had one time spoken to Paul
of the "doves on Calvary", an image used by some who were
of the same contemplative spirit as were many religious. Though Paul
had struggled for 40 years for its realization, it was not until 1771
that the Passionist Nuns were established in Corneto-Tarquinia. Paul
appointed Mother M. Crocifissa Costantini, a Benedictine nun, as the
first superior. Pope Clement XIV granted her permission to transfer
to the new convent.
After the suppression of
the Company of Jesus, Clement XIV transferred the Fathers of the Missions
(Lazzarists) to the church of Sant'Andrea on the Quirinal and gave Paul
of the Cross the house and basilica on the Celian hill, SS. Giovanni
e Paolo. A short distance from the Coliseum, it was here Paul passed
the last years of his life. Here, too, he was visited by two Popes,
Clement XIV in 1774 and by Pius VI in 1775. He died a few months after
the latter visit. His mortal remains are enshrined in the chapel, completed
in 1880, dedicated to him.
Chronology of St. Paul of
Return to Index
- 3 January1694:
PAOLO DANEI born in Ovada, Alessandria, Italy, of Luca, a small business
merchant, and Anna Maria Massari. Firstborn of 16 children, only six
of whom survived infancy.
- 6 January1694:
Baptized and given the name Paolo Francesco Danei Massari.
- 4 April1695:
Birth of Giovanni Battista Danei, life time companion of Paul and
instrumental in the foundation of the Congregation.
Paul lived with his family which had, in the meantime, moved to Castellazzo
Time of his "conversion" brought about by a sermon he had
Volunteers for the army in the war against the Turks.
- 23 April1719:
Received Confirmation at Castellazzo.
The vision by which he discerned his future vocation.
- 22 November
1720: Paul is vested in the Passionist habit by Mons. Gattinara,
Bishop of Alessandria.
- 22 November1720
/1 January 1721: He makes forty-day retreat in the church of
St. Charles, Castellazzo, during which he writes the "Spiritual
Diary" and the first Passionist Rule.
1721: Paul's first journey to Rome. He is rebuffed at the Quirinal
palace (Papal Residence at the time). In the basilica of St. Mary
Major, he takes a vow to dedicate himself to promoting the memory
of the Passion of Jesus Christ.
Paul and John Baptist live in a hermitage, successively at Monte
Argentario, Gaeta, and Itri.
The two brothers minister to the sick in the hospital of San Gallicano,
Rome. They are ordained priest by Pope Benedict Xlll in the basilica
of St. Peter 7 June1727.
The two brothers move to Mount Argentario. They teach catechism in
Orbetello and nearby towns. In 1730 they preach their first parish
mission in Talamone. They are joined by other companions who are called
to Passionist life.
- 14 May 1741:
Pope Benedict XIV approved the Rule. Paul and his companions profess
religious vows on the 11th June as " Passionists".
Paul is elected Superior General, a position he holds for the remainder
of his life.
Paul preaches many parish missions and retreats; writes thousands
of letters of spiritual direction and founded retreats in Vetralla,
Sant'Eutizio, Ceccano, San Sosio, Montecavo, Paliano...
- 30 August1765:
Fr. John Baptist Danei dies.
Paul is seriously ill in Vetralla.
He is again seriously ill in the hospice of SS.mo Crocifisso in Rome.
- May 1771:
First foundation of the Passionist Nuns in Tarquinia.
1773: Paul takes possession of the retreat of Saints John and
Paul in Rome, a concession of Pope Clement XIV.
- 26 June 1774:
Paul is visited by Clement XIV at Saints John and Paul; Pius VI visits
him in 1775.
- 14 September
1775: Pius VI, in the Papal Bull " Praeclara Virtutum Exampla",
approves the revision of the Rule.
- 18 October
1775: Death of Paul in Saints John and Paul, Rome.
- 7 January1777:
Opening of the process of Canonization.
- 22 December
1778: First biography of Paul of the Cross written Vincent M.
- 18 February
1821: Proclamation of heroic virtues.
- 1 May1853:
Beatification of Paul by Pius IX, who will later canonize him on 29
- 25 April
1880: Transferral of the relics of St. Paul of the Cross to the
chapel dedicated to him in the basilica of Saints John and Paul.
questions or comments about this page to Victor Hoagland, C.P.
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