Saints of the Day – Paul of the Cross, Priest

Saint Paul of the CrossArticle

Born at Ovada, Piedmont, Italy, in 1694; died in Rome, Italy, October 18, 1775; canonized in 1867; feast day formerly on April 28.

Paolo Francesco Danei was well brought up by devout, middle-class parents (a.k.a. impoverished nobility). At 15, while still living with his parents in Castellazzo, Lombardy, Paul adopted a lifestyle of rigorous austerity and great mortifications. When he was 20 he volunteered for the Venetian army to fight against the Turks, but he soon found he was not meant to be a soldier. After his discharge, he resumed his life of prayer and penance. He refused marriage, and spent several years in retreat at Castellazzo.

In 1720, had a vision of our Lady in a black habit with the name Jesus and a cross in white on the chest. In the vision, the Blessed Virgin told him to found a religious order devoted to preaching the Passion of Christ (hence their name, Passionists). Paul experienced such mystical communications all his life, and came to distrust them; however, he acted promptly on these first ones.

The bishop of Alessandria discerned that Paul’s visions were authentic, and gave him permission to proceed to draw up a rule for the new order. Thus, Paul wrote the Passionist rule during a 45- day retreat. With his brother, Giovanni Baptista, who became his inseparable companion and closest confidant, he went to Rome to seek papal approval, which was refused at first. On their return to Rome in 1725, they were granted permission by Pope Benedict XIII to accept novices. Two years later (1727), the holy father ordained the two brothers as priests in the Vatican basilica.

After their ordination he and his brother started the first Passionist house, on the Monte Argentaro peninsula (near Orbitello) in Tuscany. The first ten years were difficult, for both internal and external reasons. Many of their first novices left because of the severity of the rule. Perseverance won. In the end austere life of the missioners and the fervent preaching of their founder made their mark.

The first monastery was opened in 1737. In 1741, Pope Benedict XIV approved a modified rule, and the “Barefoot Clerks of the Holy Cross and Passion” began to spread throughout Italy. They were in great demand for their missions, which became famous.

Paul was elected first superior general, against his will, at the first general chapter at Monte Argentaro and held that position the rest of his life. He preached all over the Papal States to tremendous crowds, raised them to a fever pitch as he scourged himself in public, and brought back to the faith the most hardened sinners and criminals (What would Saint Hippolytus say to that!).

He was blessed with supernatural gifts – prophecy, miracles of healing, appearances to people in visions at a distance – and was one of the most celebrated preachers of his day. People fought to touch him and to get a piece of his tunic as a relic. Though the two main objectives of the order were service to the sick and the dying, Paul’s special concern was the conversion of sinners, for which he prayed for 50 years.

The Passionists received final approbation from Pope Clement XIV in 1769. Two years later, Paul’s efforts to create an institute of nuns came into being with the opening of the first house of Passionist nuns at Corneto. Paul lived to see the congregation firmly established. After a three-year illness, Paul died and was buried in the Basilica of SS John and Paul, given to the order by Pope Clement.

Saint Paul of the Cross was always interested in the religious state of England. Thus, it is heartening to note that the leader of the first Passionists to work there, Father Dominic Barberi (died 1849), who received John Henry Newman into the Catholic Church, was also beatified in 1963 (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, White).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 3 August 2020. Web. 24 November 2020. <>