The Congregation of Discalced Clerks of the Most Holy Cross and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Passionists.—The full title of the Passionist institute is: THE CONGREGATION OF DISCALCED CLERKS OF THE MOST HOLY CROSS AND PASSION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.
Foundation.—The founder was St. Paul of the Cross, called in the world Paul Francis Danei. The saint was born January 3, 1694, at Ovada, a small town in the then Republic of Genoa. He spent his youth at Castellazzo, in Lombardy, where his parents had taken up their residence when Paul was only ten years old. This was his father’s native place. It is to Castellazzo we have to turn our thoughts for the beginnings of the Passionist Congregation. There Paul received his inspirations concerning the work for which God destined him. There he was clothed by his bishop in the habit of the Passion, and there wrote the Rules of the new institute.
The Rules were written by St. Paul while yet a layman and before he assembled companions to form a community. He narrates, in a statement written in obedience to his confessor, how Our Lord inspired him with the design of founding the congregation, and how he wrote the Rules and Constitutions. “I began”, he says, “to write this holy rule on the second of December in the year 1720, and I finished it on the seventh of the same month. And be it known that when I was writing, I went on as quickly as if somebody in a professor’s chair were there dictating to me. I felt the words come from my heart” (see “Life of St. Paul of the Cross”, II, v, Oratorian Series). In 1725 when on a visit to Rome with his brother John Baptist, his constant companion and cooperator in the foundation of the institute, Paul received from Benedict XIII vivoe vocis oraculo, permission to form a congregation according to these Rules. The same pope ordained the two brothers in the Vatican basilica June 7, 1727. After serving for a time in the hospital of St. Gallicano they left Rome with permission of the Holy Father and went to Mount Argentaro, where they established the first house of the institute. They took up their abode in a small hermitage near the summit of the mount, to which was attached a chapel dedicated to St. Anthony. They were soon joined by three companions, one of whom was a priest, and the observance of community life according to the rules began there and is continued there to the present day. This was the cradle of the congregation, and we may date the foundation of the Passionists from this time.
Formation and Development.—By an Apostolic rescript of May 15, 1741, Benedict XIV approved the Rules of the institute, whose object, being to awaken in the faithful the memory of the Passion of Christ, commended itself in a special manner to him, and he was heard to say, after signing the rescript, that the Congregation of the Passion had come into the world last, whereas it ought to have been the first. Clement XIV confirmed the Rules and approved the institute by the Bull Supremi Apostolatus of November 16, 1769, which concedes to the Passionist Congregation all the favors and privileges granted to other religious orders. The same pope afterwards gave to St. Paul and his companions the Church of Sts. John and Paul in Rome, with the large house annexed to it on Monte Celio, and this remains the motherhouse of the congregation to the present day. Before the holy founder’s death the Rules and the institute were again solemnly confirmed and approved by a Bull of Pius VI, “Praelara virtutum exempla”, September 15, 1775, These two Bulls of Clement XIV and Pius VI gave canonical stability to the institute, and are the basis and authority of its rights and privileges.
After the congregation had been approved by Benedict XIV many associates joined St. Paul, some of whom were priests; and the new disciples gave themselves up to such a life of fervent penance and prayer that upon Mount Argentaro the sanctity of the ancient anchorites was revived. Before the death of the founder twelve houses or “retreats” of the congregation were established throughout Italy and formed into three provinces, fully organized according to the Rules—a general over the entire congregation, a provincial over each province, rectors over the several houses, a novitiate in each province. These superiors were to be elected in provincial chapters held every three years and general chapters every six years.
Distinctive Spirit.—The congregation embraces both the contemplative and the active life, as applied to religious orders. The idea of the founder was to unite in it the solitary life of the Carthusians or Trappists with the active life of the Jesuits or Lazarists. The Passionists are reckoned among the mendicant orders in the Church. They have no endowments, nor are they allowed to possess property either in private or in common, except their houses and a few acres of land attached to each. They therefore depend upon their labors and the voluntary contributions of the faithful. The end of the congregation, as stated in the Rules, is twofold: first, the sanctification of its members; and secondly, the sanctification of others. This twofold end is to be secured by means of their distinctive spirit, namely the practice and promotion of devotion to the Passion of Our Lord as the most efficacious means for withdrawing the minds of men from sin and leading them on to Christian perfection. To this end the Passionists at their profession add to the three usual religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, a fourth—to promote to the utmost of their power, especially by such means as their rules’ point out, a devotion to the Passion of Our Divine Savior.
Recruiting and Training of Members.—The Passionists have no colleges for the education of seculars, and have no young men or boys under their care, except those who wish to become members of the congregation, and those who are novices and professed students. They depend therefore for their subjects upon the attraction which the spirit and work of the congregation exercise upon youths who come to know them. The congregation admits of two classes of religious: choir brothers and lay brothers. The former, unless priests already, are to give themselves to study for the priesthood. The latter are charged with the domestic duties of the retreat. The conditions for the reception of novices are, besides those common” to all religious orders: (I) that they be at least fifteen years of age, and not over twenty-five (from this latter the father general can dispense for any just and sufficient reason); (2) that they show special aptitude for the life of a Passionist; (3) if they are to be received as clerics they must have made due progress in their studies and show the usual signs of vocation to the priesthood. After profession and the completion of their classical and intermediate studies, the students take a seven years’ course of ecclesiastical studies under the direction and tuition of professors, or lectors as they are called, in philosophy, theology, Holy Scripture etc., and when they have passed the required examinationsthey are promoted to Holy orders sub titulo Paupertatis.
The vows made in the congregation are simple, not solemn vows, and they are perpetual, or for life, so that no religious can leave the congregation of his own accord after profession, and no one can be dismissed except for some grave and canonical reason. For the sanctification of its members and the maintenance of the spirit of the congregation in their community life, besides practicing the austerities and mortifications prescribed by Rule and familiar only to themselves, the Passionists spend five hours every day in choir chanting the Divine Office or in meditation. They rise at midnight and spend one hour and a half chanting Matins and Lauds. They abstain from flesh meat three days in the week throughout the year, and during the whole of Lent and Advent; but in cold and severe climates, such as the British Isles, a dispensation is usually granted allowing the use of flesh meat two or three times a week during those seasons. They wear only sandals on their feet. Their habit is a coarse woollen tunic. They sleep on straw beds with straw pillows. They spend the time free from choir and other public acts of observance in study and spiritual reading, and, that they may have Our Lord’s Sacred Passion continually before their mind, they wear upon their breasts and mantles the badge of the congregation on which are inscribed the words Jesu XPI Passio (Passion of Jesus Christ).
Activities or Missionary Labors.—For the spiritual good of others, the second end of their institute, in Catholic countries they do not ordinarily undertake the cure of souls or the duties of parish priests, but endeavor to assist parish priests of the places where their houses are established, especially in the confessional. In non-Catholic countries, and in countries where the population is mixed, that is, made up of Catholics and non-Catholics, the Rule provides for such circumstances, and they may undertake ordinary parochial duties and the cure of souls when requested to do so by the bishops or ordinaries, and this is the case in England, in the United States of America, and in Australia. Otherwise the congregation could not have been established or maintained in these countries. Wherever houses and churches of the congregation exist, the fathers are always ready to preach, to instruct, and to hear the confessions of all persons who may have recourse to them. They also receive into their houses priests or laymen who wish to go through a course of spiritual exercises under their direction.
The principal means, however, employed by the Passionists for the spiritual good of others, is giving missions and retreats, whether to public congregations in towns or country places, or to religious communities, to colleges, seminaries, to the clergy assembled for this purpose, or to particular sodalities or classes of people, and even to non-Catholics, where this can be done, for the purpose of their conversion. In their missions and retreats, in general, they follow the practice of other missioners and accommodate themselves to the exigencies of the locality and of the people; a special feature, however, of their work is that every day they give a meditation or a simple instruction on the Passion of Our Savior Jesus Christ; in some form or other this subject must invariably be introduced in public missions and private retreats. The Passionists make no particular vow, like that of the Jesuits, to be ready to go on foreign missions among the infidels or wherever the pope may send them, but their Rules enjoin them to be thus ready and at the disposal of the pope or of the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda; and accordingly Passionist bishops and missioners have been engaged in propagating the faith and in watching over the faithful in Rumania and Bulgaria almost since the time of St. Paul of the Cross. At an early period also a few Italian Passionists went to preach the Gospel to the aborigines of Australia, but they had to abandon that mission after many trials and sufferings and the missioners were scattered. Some of them returned to Italy and rejoined their brethren (see Moran, “History of the Catholic Church in Australasia”).
In respect to missionary work and labors for the good of souls the Passionists profess to serve every-one, never to refuse their services in any department of Our Lord’s Vineyard, whether the place to which they are sent be the meanest and poorest, or the people with whom they have to deal be the most thankless or intractable, and even though they may have to expose their lives by attending to those affected by pestilential diseases.
Growth and Extent.—Before the death of its founder twelve retreats of the institute had been established in different parts of Italy, and between the year of his death (1775) and 1810 several others had been founded, but all in Italy. These were all closed in the general suppression of religious institutes by order of Napoleon. For the Passionists, who had no house outside Italy, this meant total suppression, as the whole of that country was under the tyrant’s sway. After the fall of Napoleon and the return of Pius VII to Rome and to his possessions, the religious orders were speedily restored. The first of the orders to attract the pope’s attention was the Congregation of the Passion, although it was the smallest of all. They were the first to resume the religious garb and community life in their Retreat of Sts. John and Paul. This event took place on June 16, 1814. They soon regained their former retreats and new ones were in a short time founded in the Kingdoms of Naples and Sardinia, in Tuscany, and elsewhere.
From the time of the restoration of the congregation under Pius VII it has continued without interruption to increase in numbers and influence. It has branched into many and distant countries outside Italy. At present, retreats of the Congregation exist in England, Scotland, Ireland, Belgium, France (in this country the communities have been disbanded since 1903 by the Republican Government), Spain, United States of America, Argentine Republic, Chile, Mexico, and Australia; and Passionist missioners continue their labors under two Passionist bishops in Bulgaria.
The Anglo-Hibernian Province.—The first foundation in English-speaking countries in the order of time is the Anglo-Hibernian Province of St. Joseph. The Passionists were introduced into England by Father Dominic of the Mother of God (Barberi) who arrived at Oscott College, Birmingham, for this purpose with only one companion, Father Amadeus (October 7, 1841). They came in the spirit of Apostles with-out gold or silver, without scrip or staff or shoes or two coats. They had, however, three ecclesiastical friends who received them kindly and encouraged them in their enterprise by advice and patronage. These were: Dr. Walsh, Bishop of the Midland District; Dr. Wiseman, then his coadjutor bishop; and Father Ignatius Spencer, who joined the congregation in 1847 and labored as one of its most saintly and devoted sons until his death in 1865. Father Dominic and his companion took possession of Aston Hall, near Stone, Staffordshire, on February 17, 1842, and there established the first community of Passionists in England. At the time of the arrival of the Passionists there were only 560 priests in England and the distressful state of the Church there may be learned from the Catholic Directory of 1840.
The Passionists with Father Dominic at their head soon revived without commotion several Catholic customs and practices which had died out since the Reformation. They were the first to adopt strict community life, to wear their habit in public, to give missions and retreats to the people, and to hold public religious processions. “They gloried in the disgrace of the Cross, were laughed at by Protestants, warned by timid Catholics, but encouraged always by Cardinal Wiseman. Their courage became infectious, so that in a short time almost every order now in England followed their example. There were two or three Fathers of Charity then in England, but they were engaged teaching in colleges until they might become proficient in the language. Father Dominic, after he had given his first mission, wrote to Dr. Gentili and begged him and his companions to start a missionary career. They did so and the memory of their labors is not yet dead” (MS. by Father Pius Devine, 1882). Father Dominic labored only for seven years in England, during which he founded three houses of the congregation. He died in 1849. For fourteen years after its introduction into England, the progress of the congregation had been slow. In the beginning of 1856 there were only nine native priests and three lay-brothers; the rest, to the number of sixteen or seventeen, were foreigners.
Foundation in Ireland.—It was during this year they secured their first foundation in Ireland, which was the beginning of a new era of progress for the Passionists at home and beyond the seas. Father Vincent Grotti, then acting-provincial, invited and encouraged by Cardinal Cullen, in 1856 purchased the house and property called Mount Argus, near Dublin, where their grand monastery and church now stand. A community was soon formed there. Father Paul Mary (Hon. Reginald Pakenham, son of the Earl of Longford) was the first rector of the retreat, and died there March 1, 1857. This remarkable scion of a noble house, first an officer in the army, received into the Catholic Church by Cardinal Wiseman at the age of twenty-nine, entered the Congregation of the Passion in 1851, lived for six years an austere and penitential life according to its Rule, and died in the odor of sanctity.
In course of time other houses were founded in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. In 1887 four priests, Fathers Alphonsus O’Neill, Marcellus Wright, Patrick Fagan, Colman Nunan, and Brother Law-rence Carr, at the invitation of Cardinal Moran, went from this province to establish the congregation in Australia. Soon three houses of the institute were founded at Sydney, Goulborn, and Adelaide respectively. All three remain united to the home province. In 1862 a house was founded in Paris (which became afterwards known as St. Joseph‘s church in the Avenue Hoche) for the benefit of English-speaking Catholics, and it has remained the center of spiritual ministrations for the purpose for which it was founded to the present time, though secularized in 1903 by the Republican Government.
This province of St. Joseph, including Australia, possesses twelve houses or retreats. It numbers 106 priests, 36 professed students (24 of whom are reading theology), 12 novices, and 27 professed lay-brothers; in all 181 members
In the United States.—In 1852 Dr. O’Connor, Bishop of Pittsburg, obtained from the general of the Passionists three fathers and a lay-brother to start a branch of the congregation in his diocese. The missionaries were Fathers Anthony, Albinus, and Stanislaus. They were totally ignorant of the English language and, humanly speaking, most unlikely men to succeed in Apostolic labors in America. They were at first housed in the bishop’s palace, but a retreat was soon built for them, and these three Passionists soon attracted others to be their companions and, in the space of twenty years, were able to build up a flourishing province. In that period as Father Pius writes; “Five splendid houses of our Congregation graced and beautified the States: a basilica has arisen in Hoboken; Cincinnati, Dunkirk, Baltimore, and Louisville can testify how these poor men increased and multiplied, and how their poor beginnings came to have such splendid results. They have built two extra churches in Pittsburg, and two more in New Jersey. Recently a foundation has been made in the Diocese of Brooklyn at Shelter Island. It will be used as a house of studies for novices and as a summer retreat for the priests. The American Province is more numerous and flourishing than any other in the order at present. Not only have they supplied their own wants, but they have sent offshoots to Mexico, Buenos Ayres, and Chile to be seeds of future provinces which may one day vie with their own” (1882, MS.).
The number of the religious and of the houses of the congregation increased gradually until the province became so extended that the superiors deemed it advisable to form a new province in the States. Accordingly, as a branch from the old and first province, a second was founded, under the title of the Holy Cross, by the authority of the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, in 1906. There are therefore at present two Passionist provinces in the United States, namely, the Province of St. Paul of the Cross and that of the Holy Cross. The former comprises 6 retreats, 113 professed priests and students, and 26 lay-brothers; the latter has 5 retreats, 76 priests and students, and 19 lay-brothers.
According to the general catalogue issued in 1905, the whole congregation includes 12 provinces, 94 retreats, and 1387 religious. A retreat of the congregation, dedicated to St. Martha, was founded at Beth-any, near Jerusalem, in 1903.
The Congregation of the Passion has never had a regular cardinal protector, as is the case with other religious orders. The sovereign pontiffs have always retained it under their own immediate protection, and have always been ready, according to the spirit and the words of Clement XIV, to assist it by their authority, protection, and favor (letter to the founder, April 21, 1770), and Pius VII by a special Rescript in 1801 declared the congregation to be under the immediate protection of the pope.
PASSIONIST NUNS.—In the “Life of St. Paul of the Cross” by Venerable Strambi, we have evidence of his design from the beginning of the Congregation of the Passion to found an institute in which women, consecrated to the service of God, should devote themselves to prayer and meditation on our Lord’s Passion. It was not until towards the end of his life that he wrote the rules of the institute which were approved by a Brief of Clement XIV in 1770. St. Paul had as cooperatrix in the foundation of the Passionist nuns, a religious, known as Mother Mary of Jesus Crucified, whose secular name was Faustina Gertrude Costantini. She was born at Corneto, August 18, 1713. In youth she placed herself under the direction of St. Paul of the Cross, and became a Benedictine in her native city, awaiting the establishment of a Passionist convent. Through the generosity of her relatives, Dominic Costantini, Nicolas his brother, and Lucia his wife, a site was obtained for the first convent of the new institute in Corneto, and a suitable house and chapel were built. On the Feast of the Holy Cross, 1771, Mother Mary of Jesus Crucified, with the permission of Clement XIV, with ten postulants, was clothed in the habit of the Passion and entered the first convent of Passionist nuns, solemnly opened by the vicar capitular of the diocese. St. Paul, detained by illness, was represented by the first consultor general of the order, Father John Mary. Mary of Jesus Crucified became the first mother superior of her order and remained so until her death in 1787. The spirit of the institute and its distinctive character is devotion to the Passion of Christ, to which the sisters bind themselves by vows. Their life is austere, but in no way injurious to health. Postulants seeking admission must have a dowry. Their convents are strictly enclosed. The sisters chant or recite the Divine Office in common and spend the greater part of the day in prayer and other duties of piety. They attend to the domestic work of the convent, and occupy themselves in their cells with needlework, making vestments etc. With the approbation of Pius IX a house was established at Mamers in the Diocese of le Mans, France, in 1872, and continued to flourish until suppressed with other religious communities in 1903 by the Government. There is also a Passionist convent at Lucca whose foundation was predicted by Gemma Galganino, the twentieth-century mystic. On May 5, 1910, five Passionist nuns from Italy arrived in Pittsburg to make the first foundation of their institute in the United States.
SISTERS OF THE MOST HOLY CROSS AND PASSION.—This second Order of Passionist nuns was founded in England in 1850 when Father Gaudentius, one of the first Passionists who joined Father Dominic in that country, formed a plan of providing a home for factory girls in Lancashire. With the sanction and approbation of Dr. Turner, then Bishop of Salford, and his vicar-general, a house was secured for a convent and home in Manchester in 1851. The first superior was Mother Mary Joseph Paul. The community prospered and rules were drawn up. The sisters took the name of Sisters of the Holy Family and in course of time became aggregated to the Congregation of the Passionists (although immediately subject to the bishop of the diocese) under the name of Sisters of the Most Holy Cross and Passion. The institute under this title and its rules were approved by Pius IX on July 2, 1876 per modum experimenti ad decennium and received its final approbation from Leo XIII, by a Decree dated June 21, 1887. The institute had its origin chiefly in the lamentable state of female operatives in the large towns of England, who, though constantly exposed to the greatest dangers to faith and morals, had no special guardians or instructors save the clergy. To protect and maintain these women, and, if erring, to help them reform, are the special tasks of the sisters. The Passionist spirit of the institute may be known from their approved rules. “As this congregation is affiliated to and bears the same name as the Congregation of Clerks of the Most Holy Cross and Passion of Jesus Christ. let them in a particular manner strive to keep alive in their hearts the memory of Jesus Crucified, and cultivate an ardent and tender devotion to His most holy Passion and Death, so that they may imbibe His spirit, learn His virtues, and faithfully imitate them. Although the Sisters are not bound, as are the above named Clerks, by a special vow, they should, nevertheless, with all eagerness promote the same salutary devotion in the hearts of those whose education they undertake” (Rules, ch. I). The sisters have founded Houses of Refuge and Homes for factory girls; they also teach parochial schools, and have boarding schools for secondary education. They instruct converts and others, visit the sick, and perform all the duties of Sisters of Mercy and Charity. Since their final approbation they have increased rapidly and now have two provinces with 18 convents in England, 3 in Ireland, and 3 in Scotland, 2 training colleges for teachers, and large parochial schools wherever their houses are established, 9 homes for factory girls; the sisters number 430.
A similar Society was established in Chili by the Passionists a few years ago and these are now, by their own request, to be aggregated to the Anglo-Hibernian sisterhood. Another active community of Passionist Sisters was established, and existed in Lourdes until 1903.