From Behind Monastery Walls to A World View: Passionist Bulletin 1943-1947 A Historical Analysis and Reflection

Home / From Behind Monastery Walls to A World View: Passionist Bulletin 1943-1947 A Historical Analysis and Reflection

by Father Rob Carbonneau, C.P.


World War II forced people of the United States to think world. Communication between allies and families became a priority. In their own way, the Passionist priests and brothers of Holy Cross Province (Chicago, Illinois and points west) faced the same desires. On May 3, 1943, they commenced publication of Passionist Bulletin-several had the title C.P. Bulletin. Editors residing at the Passionist Novitiate St. Paul, Kansas clarified the intent of the enterprise. It read in part: “There is a wealth of material found in the past numbers of our Bolletino and Acta Congregationis [both published in Rome] that has never been translated and we feel confident would be extremely interesting and inspirational. Our Missionaries often do wonderful work that comes to the knowledge of only a few of the Brethren. Our Army-Chaplains need our prayers and appreciation. Many little facts take place in the quiet of our Retreats, which if made known would do much for good-fellowship. Our Holy Rule contains a wealth of ascetical material, which if studied and worked out would bring us all to the conclusion that we need hardly any other spiritual reading besides its pages. It not seldom happens that we receive a death notice of one of our own whom we did not even suspect that he was sick.”

The following essay highlights Passionist Bulletin. Likewise it accentuates a selection of themes that reflects both daily Passionist monastic life and public ministry as well as the concentrated effort of Chicago-based Passionists to connect with their international brethren during and immediately after World War II.

Readers should know that 28 issues of Passionist Bulletin were published between May 3, 1943 and November 21, 1947. In 1948 Volume 1 of The Passionist was published. New editor Father Vincent Mary Oberhauser, C.P. changed the format and shortened the name. A table of contents for both versions can be found at in the Passionist Publications section. -The Editor


The first five issues of the Passionist Bulletin stored at the Passionist Historical Archives in Union City, New Jersey reveal a publication trying to get on its feet in that they were mimeographed and approximately 25 pages in length. Issues 6-28 are more professional. Paper quality and graphics are better. Publication of photos begins in issue 7. The devotional integrity of Passionist monastic life in that era is obvious in that the masthead of each issue prints the date of publication, the liturgical feast and publication number. Generally speaking-editorial tweaking aside-every issue offered news on various topics.

Passionist History, Spirituality and Culture: One section concentrated on some aspect of Passionist spirituality or life style as expressed in the hierarchy of canonical legislation on religious life. Warren Womack, Roger Mercurio and other Passionist students of the day offered thoughts on the Passionist past. In some cases more detective work is needed to determine authors since it was customary for religious to use their religious titles rather than their family names.

News of Holy Cross Province: From the start the publication promoted life and ministry in foundations of the western province. In many respects this second area was the heart and soul of the publication since it offered news summaries from every Passionist foundation in Holy Cross Province. In a real sense this allowed the Passionist readers to go behind the monastery walls so as to be part of the daily rhythms of life and prayer of their confreres The Chronicle section of each issue offered news from Immaculate Conception Retreat, Chicago, Illinois; Sacred Heart Retreat, Louisville, Kentucky; Our Lady of Good Counsel Retreat, St. Louis, Missouri; Holy Cross Monastery, Cincinnati, Ohio; Mater Delorosa Retreat, Sierra Madre, California; St. Paul Monastery, Detroit, Michigan; St. Francis De Hieronymo Novitiate Retreat, St. Paul, Kansas; St. Gabriel Retreat, Des Moines, Iowa; and the Colored or Negro Missions-as they were known at the time-in Fairfield and Ensley, Alabama. Eventually, readers learned of the new Passionist retreats begun in Sacramento, California and Houston, Texas.

News of Military Chaplains: During World War II, any Passionist international news snippets were welcome. For instance, particular attention was given to the Passionist military chaplains of Holy Cross Province. For example, in June 1944, the names and addresses of the 17 Passionists of the western province who were miliary chaplains was published in the journal. Each issue carried summaries of their world travels from 1943 until 1946-almost a year after the end of World War II. Notable is the fact that Father Edwin Ronan, C.P. was American internee No. 424 at Saitama Camp, Tokyo. Also Father Owen Monaghan, C.P. was the only American Passionist military chaplain killed during WWII.

Passionists International: After 1945 it became common to publish short summaries of decisions made by Passionist leaders in Rome. Summaries of news from other Passionist provinces became a regular feature. As expected, there was always a summary about activities in St. Paul of the Cross Province, the eastern province based in Union City, New Jersey and the China missions.

The advent of post-war peace allowed for greater communication among Passionists. Increased attention was given to Passionists in post-war Europe such as the Province of St. Joseph (England), Province of St. Patrick (Ireland), Provinces of St. Gabriel and Mother of Hope (Belgium and Holland), Province of St. Michael (France), the German Commissariate, and Polish Commissariate, as well as Bulgaria and Spain. Some of the Italian provinces were Presentation Province, Province of Sorrowful Mother, and the Province of the Pieta. News of Holy Ghost Province (Australia) as well as Passionists in Immaculate Conception Province (Argentina), Calvary Province (Brazil), and Mexico City, Mexico.

Passionist Directory: Historians and genealogists might drool with excitement when they learn that a regular feature was to publish a list of where each person-priests, brothers, and students-was assigned. Again, as was common, last names were not used. This is not surprising given the fact that this was an internal Passionist publication so most probably many of the men knew each other. It also reflected the idea that joining a religious order meant leaving the world. Infrequent use of one’s last name would be a symbol of this. Essential to understand that list is the Reference page. This lists the ministries or tasks of each religious and, in effect, offers us a snapshot of daily life in Holy Cross Province. For example, in June 1944 there are 94 categories of assignment The person with a particular responsibility has that number beside his name on the master list. Province leadership shows a provincial and two consultors; local Passionist foundations were led by a rector and assisted by a vicar. Pastors of the respective parishes are identified. Because Passionists of the Holy Cross Province had their own internal seminary system-as did St. Paul of the Cross Province-it is not surprising to see that 31 men were assigned to the Passionist educational system. Another aspect of the reference key is of interest in that it shows what has been called the “hidden” life of the Passionist brothers. It might be worthwhile however listing the ministries of the Brothers: Boilerman and Gardner, Tailor and Infirmarian, Refectorian Offices, Cook, Boilerman and Outside Brother, Assistant Cook, Tailor, Infirmarian, Porter, Refectorian, Church Warden Gardner, Boilerman and Poultry Farm. Des Moines, Iowa and St. Paul Kansas still operated poultry farms in the 1940s. In a sense this information serves as a reminder as to how daily Passionist life was lived. Numerous other priests served in parishes and staffed hospitals, for the most part located adjacent to the monasteries.

Works of Ministry: In 1944 works are divided by respective communities and respective priests who might give a parish mission day of recollection or Forty Hours. By 1947 the listing puts less emphasis on the individual foundation and priest. Instead the information stresses the devotions; parish missions, retreats, Sierra Madre Retreats, Lay Retreats, Forty Hours, Novenas, Days of Recollection, Thirteen Hours, Cana Conferences. Furthermore, whereas beginning in June 1945 the listing was priest, location and date. In 1946 the order was otherwise: date, place, priest. Most certainly, these works of ministry verify the strong preaching tradition of Holy Cross Province. At the same time, the same information invites greater study on preaching. For example, an interested student might compile a data base that would highlight the works of various preachers and their type of ministry. We might also be able to learn whether preachers of Holy Cross province were preaching more in urban or rural locations. In some cases, for instance in September 15, 1944, Number 8 there are references to Passionists engaged in street preaching. In any case, it can be said that all this retrieval of data can be brought to life by material in the archives of Holy Cross Province because of the diligent effort of former archivist Father Roger Mercurio, C.P. to pro-actively seek the written sermons of the Passionist preachers. With this documentation we might then be able to examine the theological and devotional content of Passionist preaching through the 1940s. Historian Leslie Woodcock Tentler at The Catholic University of America, Washington. D.C. used this historical material well in her book: Catholics and Contraception: An American History (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2004). It is worthwhile to say that this same effort to understand the Passionist theology of preaching in diverse ministries could be undertaken in St. Paul of the Cross Province and other Passionist provinces throughout the world.

Passionist Nuns and Sisters: The Bulletin helps bring to life the ministerial relationship between Passionist male and female religious. The priests often conducted religious exercises such as daily mass, community retreats for women religious, or preached retreats in the respective retreats. News is published on the Passionist Nuns at Our Lady of Sorrows Convent, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and St. Gabriel’s Convent, Scranton, Pennsylvania. In time there is information on the Passionist Sisters of the Cross and Passion in Rhode Island. In the post-war years more information is given on Passionist women religious throughout the world.

Passionists and the Laity: Historians generally describe the laity as part of the post-Vatican II (1962-1965). However, a close read of the Passionist Bulletin offers a perspective on the Passionist-lay relationships before Vatican II. With pride we find the names of benefactors, parishioners, retreatants, and civic leaders. Their lives of prayer and witness to Catholic life was an integral support for Passionists.


People who love history want a story rich in detail. Some want history to dig up the dirt or scandal on a person, subject or era. More often than not publications like the Passionist Bulletin of the 1940s remind us that history means living with the dust of historical understanding. So often there is a tendency to sweep up this historical dust and throw it away. Some may even say: “This is the past. Who cares?” I would suggest that what some might see as dust in this Passionist publication-and others published by other Passionist provinces throughout the world-is in fact the rich soil of Passionist religious tradition. In its jubilee year, Holy Cross Province must be thanked for the Passionist Bulletin.

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