Fr. Fabiano Giorgini, C.P.
It was the wish of St. Paul of the Cross to have a house in Rome in order to have a sense of ecclesial unity and also to facilitate official relations with the Holy See. In 1747, the possibility of acquiring the church of San Tommaso in Formis in the Villa Celimontana together with the ex-residence of the Trinitarians seemed to be a reality. However, the opposition of the Canons of St. Peter, who had jurisdiction over this property, blocked the project.
On 9 January 1767, he was able to take up residence in a house of the Ospizio del SS. Crocifisso on the wide Via San Giovanni that was bought from the Jesuits. Approximately seven to nine persons could be accommodated in this dwelling.
On 21 July 1773, the Jesuits were suppressed and on 9 August 1773, a commission was established by the Cardinal to settle their properties. A member of the commission was Cardinal De Zelada, a close friend of Paul. He suggested to Paul that he request the church and the monastery of Sts. John and Paul on the Celio which was located in open country and which was more in keeping with the spirit of solitude of the Congregation. The Vincentians, who since 1697 were living in this complex on the Celio, would be offered the church of Sant’Andrea on the Quirinale together with its residence, thus offering them greater possibility for ministerial activity. Due to the support of Pope Clement XIV, an agreement was reached and on 7 December 1773, the Vincentians left the monastery on the Celio and several Passionists quietly took possession of the complex. On the afternoon of 9 December 1773, St. Paul of the Cross together with the community of the Hospice of the Holy Crucifix entered Sts. John and Paul. The Te Deum was sung in the basilica before the Blessed Sacrament exposed and the religious immediately began their prayer, night and day, for the Church.
The church that the Passionists found was built above the houses of the martyrs John and Paul, who were martyred there in 362 during the persecution of the emperor Julian the apostate. The church was erected by the senator Pammachius and was completed toward the year 392 A.D.
The original monastery that the Passionists found when they arrived is located in the area of the room used by St. Paul of the Cross and dates to the 18th century.
The Passionist religious were located in the wing off the main entrance and in the corridor leading to the refectory, which ended in the present day retreatants’ refectory. There was no third floor of rooms. The choir of the community was formed from the façade of the basilica above the portico of the main entrance. Therefore at least six times every day the community passed by the room of the Founder in order to get to the choir. The Founder resided in this room where he died because he could no longer walk and it would have been difficult for him to climb the steps to the first floor where the rooms of the religious were located. Across from the room of the Founder were two bedrooms where two religious resided.
In addition to being the site of the General Curia, the student theologate was also located here. The Vincentians used to give retreats here for seminarians and priests and the Passionists continued to set aside the second floor of the house for this same purpose. The retreat movement gradually developed. In 1798 the community experienced the first occupation by the French and they were forced to house the military and their families in the monastery. In 1810 a general suppression of religious organizations was decreed by Napoleon and only a custodian of the basilica was allowed to remain. The monastery was completely stripped of its contents. When Napoleon was defeated and the Pope was released from prison, the religious returned to Rome in May and through the mediation of Cardinal Litta, a friend of St. Vincent Maria Strambi, on 26 June 1814 the Passionists obtained permission from the Pope to once again live in community. On 10 July 1814 at Sts. John and Paul the religious that were dispersed throughout Rome and in nearby areas reunited and resumed wearing the religious habit and living in community. When they returned the religious found nothing remaining in the monastery: no chairs, tables or beds. The community continued to function as a student center and as a retreat center of spirituality for priests and laity.
At the time of the political unification of Italy, the new government suppressed religious institutes, including the community of Rome, which, according to the law of 19 June 1873, was also suppressed. The Superior General, Fr. Domenico Giacchini, asked the Cardinal Vicar to request permission of the Ruling Council to use the house of Sts. John and Paul for retreats for the clergy as had always been the custom. Influential persons who were well-known in the government as well as by the General of the Passionists also spoke in favor of this request. On 30 June 1875, the minister of Mercy and Justice announced that the Ruling Council had promulgated a decree of dissolution of the community of Sts. John and Paul and on 01 July 1875, it consigned the establishment with its garden to the Cardinal Vicar. He assumed the responsibility for its maintenance and he allowed the then Superior General and his Curia to live there as the superior of an international Congregation. Thus, the Passionist community was able to remain in the monastery although in very precarious circumstances. Legally, until 1929, the property belonged to the Cardinal Vicar; in that year by means of a settlement with the Holy See, the monastery of Sts. John and its garden were included in the Lateran Concordat through the kindness of Cardinal Gasparri, a great friend of the Passionists. He obtained permission from Pope Pius IX to have the monastery and the garden declared extraterritorial property.
The major work undertaken by the Passionists are as follows: the large sacristy inaugurated in 1860 (the sacristy during the time of St. Paul of the Cross was located in the first portion of the portico of the basilica.) The Chapel in honor of St. Paul of the Cross was begun in 1857 and inaugurated in 1880; the third floor of rooms in the main sector of the building was built in 1933 in order to accommodate the needs of retreatants; the construction, in 1933-1935, of the wing that currently houses the present community refectory and the library above it which also served as the Chapter room. Until 1963, the current retreat house, built shortly after World War II, was the site of the General Curia on the first floor, and the second floor was designated for the university/ graduate students. The construction of the wing on the side of the Coliseum in 1961-63 enabled the relocation of General Curia and the seminarian students to this new site, thus allowing the former residence to be used exclusively for retreats.
The garden of the community is located on a quadrant that was built by Agrippina, the widow the Emperor Claudius, in honor of her late husband, in the midst of which a temple was erected. The Vincentians originally also owned the area where presently the tram passes but which St. Paul did not want. Until around 1880, in the area of the military hospital, the Passionists owned the land that is presently bordered by the Via Claudia and where the block of houses, between the Via Claudia and the Via Celimontana is currently located. In that year the government decided to develop this area of the Celio and it expropriated the land. With the monies from this sale the long section of the wall of “tufo” rock material was built, which can be easily distinguished from the original roman construction.
From 1775 until 2000 all the General Chapters took place here, except for those of 1790, 1796 and 1802. Groups of missionaries departed from this monastery for Bulgaria in 1781 and in subsequent years; in 1840 for Belgium and then England; in 1842 for Australia and in 1852 for the United States of America.