Part One, 1694 to 1720

Prelude: The Beginnings

A.  Charisma; Charismatic

What it means to you in popular English.

Who are people that you think have “charisma”?

What are some of the elements that make up “charisma”?

Charism: is the same root from the Greek “charis” that gives us charisma.

The Glossary gives a good description of the word in the context of the Church.

“A charism is an extraordinary/special gift given by the Holy Spirit to an individual or to a group of the people of God for the building up of the Body of Christ. (Catechism of the Catholic Church; nn. 799-801)


“from the Holy Spirit”

“to the church/people of God”

“for the activity of the Body of Christ/Church”

How do you know whether you have received a charism?

Do all members of the Body of Christ have charisms?

Just how unique is a charism to the Body of Christ?

1 Cor 14—the question of gifts (tongues); Paul reminds the Corinthians that the higher gifts are those which build up the Church.

B.  A word about the kinds of religious communities of the time (Orders, Congregations, Monasteries, Nuns).

C.  The Church at the time of Paul of the Cross in the Maremma Toscana.

It was a Church that was either urban or rural. If urban, the diocesan church would be marked by economic resources, educated clergy, episcopal oversight, and a relatively literate citizenry.

If rural, the clergy were sometimes ordained for Mass at a stipend church; because they were often not well-educated in theology, the people received little catechetical formation.  They were a devotion-oriented people; the magisterium was often aloof and far away. The people were peasants, and often illiterate.

These are the people that Paul saw and felt his heart go out toward. They were indeed “sheep without a shepherd”.

Other religious communities were working to raise the faith-level of the people. The mendicants lived a poverty commensurate with the people. The preachers went into the abandoned areas of cities or into the countryside to conduct popular missions (St. Leonard of Port Maurice, St. Alphonsus Liguouri). Religious women were in cloisters, praying for the populace. Confraternities and religious societies offered some non-sacramental and devotional activities to strengthen the life of the devout.

Where theological trends made inroads into the people’s lives, it was Quietism or Jansenism that were most notable. Quietism was the belief that a state of perfection was achieved by the individual by allowing himself to be totally absorbed into God, a passive assimilation by God of the individual, so that his will was entirely in accord with the divine will, and therefore, free to follow his desires. Jansenism was the northern European and French heresy in Catholicism that paralleled Calvinism in its disputes over the possibility of predestination, the effect of grace on human free will and the inherent evil in human nature.

Paul of the Cross would enter into the public forum with his preaching that brought reconciliation, peace, and a sense of God’s abundant mercy into the lives of his hearers. 

D.  The biographical outline of the life of Paul Francis Daneo (St. Paul of the Cross)

Paul was born in Ovada, northern Italy, between the Lombardy and Piedmont regions, in the diocese of Alessandria. He was born on January 3, 1694, to Luca and Anna Maria (Massari) Daneo. He was one of 15 children born to Luca and Anna Maria, but only six would survive infancy. Paul was the oldest. Two of his brothers, John Baptist and Anthony would join him; only John Baptist persevered.

He had a robust constitution; he was 5 feet, 6 inches tall, about average in height for that time and place. We say he had a robust constitution because of the physical ailments that he endured while keeping a taxing schedule of activities for 82 years. He suffered from malaria, rheumatism, sciatica, and an irregular heartbeat.

His contemporaries describe him as vivacious, fiery, and sensitive. His letters reveal the intensity of his feelings—he writes of his fears, joys, hopes, sorrows, enthusiasms, and depressions. We also know that he was subject to a spiritual desolation that he endured because of his great faith in God’s presence, and the meritorious fruit of endurance in suffering.

The texts also reveal the importance he placed on the respect and honor due to others. He was polite and reverent in his dealings with others.

In all likelihood, it was the example and instruction of his mother that shaped this attitude in him, attitudes which we see revealed in his popularity as a preacher of retreats for religious women, and the spiritual guidance that he gave to some women over decades.

The family had fallen on hard times, although it had a wealthy past. Luca Daneo was a tobacco merchant, which meant that he would live on the edge of the tax laws; and it is believed by some that he even spent some time in jail for tax evasion. During Paul’s childhood, the family relocated several times.

Paul, nevertheless managed to get an education within the opportunities of the Carmelites at Cremolino, the seminary at Genoa, and the tutoring that his uncle, a priest, offered him, along with the use of his library. Other books were available at the Confraternity of the Annunciation at Castellazzo.

Paul’s only other formal education was at the time that he was preparing for ordination, which took place in Rome, June 7, 1727. He studied with the Franciscans at their monastery on the Tiber Island in Rome.

Paul’s ordination did not mark the end of a conventional preparation for priesthood. Indeed, there were many starts and stops along the way as he charted a course based on his desire to be united with Jesus and bring others to the knowledge of the love of God revealed in Jesus on the Cross. So, we will back up to an earlier period of Paul’s vocational discernment.

In 1713, at 19 years of age, Paul experienced what he called his “conversion”. During that summer, he was overwhelmed by the preaching of a sermon in his parish church. He recognized his sinfulness and was overcome with such contrition that he made a general confession, and promised to give himself over to a life of holiness and perfection.

In 1715, Pope Clement XI called for a crusade to assist the Venetians in repelling the Turkish/Moslem assault on Christendom. Paul was moved to seek enrollment in the army, and had even gone to Crema to enlist. However, it was there, during his prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, that he saw that he was not called to bear arms of war. He returned home to help his father and to continue to deepen his union with God.

In 1717, he had his first intuitions/visions about his true vocation. He felt a call to deeper solitude and penance, a life of poverty. A year later, that inclination was expanded to include the gathering of companions to share that life together and to promote the holy fear of God in others. Finally, in the summer of 1720, he had the definitive inspiration to live a life of penance in memory of the Passion of Jesus; he would wear a mourning robe of black, with a badge over his heart on which was written the name of Jesus, and which bore the signs of His Passion. Together with followers, they would promote the memory of the Passion of Jesus in the hearts of the faithful. Their life together would be marked by solitude, poverty and penance. (In another place, Paul says that this vision of the habit was accompanied by the voice and appearance of the Blessed Mother in the intended habit.)

Once this conviction was clear in his mind, only one thing remained, to bring all together under the obedience to the Church, which would commission his intuition as his legitimate vocation.