St. Paul of the Cross (Paul Daneo) was born in Ovada (Italy) on January 3, 1694. After a period of eremitical life, in 1720 he took the religious habit devoting himself to asceticism and the apostolate. He was ordained a priest by Benedict XIII in 1727.
Discerning that the sins of humanity were the result of the forgetfulness of God’s love manifested in Jesus crucified, he preached that the Passion of Jesus “the largest and most beautiful work of divine love … the miracle of miracles of God … a sea of love and sorrow,” is the most effective remedy.
Guided by our Lady who appeared to him dressed in the Passionist Habit, she also indicated the Habit of the new Congregation. Paul, along with his brother Giovanni Battista, founded the Institute of the Passionists. In the century of the enlightenment and of the deification of reason, he pointed out the way of salvation in the weakness and folly of the Cross — the cross of human wisdom and the strength of the power of God.
In 1737, on Monte Argentario (Grosseto), he opened the first House of the Congregation. In 1741 Pope Benedict XIV approved the Rule with a rescript and again in 1746 with a Pontifical Brief. In 1769 Clement XIV, who had a great affection for Paul, endorsed the Institute. In 1771, after much suffering, Paul joyfully received news of the inauguration of the first Passionist monastery for cloistered nuns in the city of Tarquinia (Viterbo, Italy). In 1773 he opened the Retreat of Saints John and Paul on the Caelian Hill in Rome, the gift of Clement XIV, who was a protector and incomparable benefactor of the Congregation. In 1775 he rejoiced in the final approbation of the Rule by Pius VI.
Despite having an episode of mystical marriage in his youth, Paul experienced heartbreaking spiritual dryness for about fifty years. He lived through many difficult trials that resulted in him being called “the prince of the destitute”. He realized perfectly his desire to “be crucified with Jesus”. And he, the Mystic of the crucified, became the one who was mystically crucified. Paul was distinguished by an extraordinary love poverty, solitude and penance. He was a revered Superior General of the Institute until the end of his life. He was greatly loved by various Popes. A tireless apostle, he derived wisdom and strength from the open wounds of Christ for his life and apostolate. He is considered “one of the greatest spiritual directors of all time”. Paul guided many people to live in a spirit of naked faith, totally embracing the divine will, and dying mystically to themselves in order to be reborn in God.
He was favored with experiences of ecstasy and other supernatural gifts and is considered “the greatest Mystic of the eighteenth century”. For purposes of spiritual direction and the government of the Congregation he wrote more than 50 thousand letters, only a minimal number of which still exist. He died in Rome on October 18, 1775. He was declared a Saint on June 29, 1867. The spiritual movement sparked by Paul has gradually expanded and today, various institutes of consecrated life and committed laity live his spirituality and venerate him with tender love of children.
Lord God, you gave our father, Saint Paul of the Cross, a wonderful spirit of love in preaching Christ Crucified. By his prayers and example, may we gain souls for Christ through the power of his passion and share with them the grace of his paschal mystery. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reign with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.