Next Item on the Agenda: Selected Decisions made by the Passionist Provincial Council: 1881-1906

Home / Next Item on the Agenda: Selected Decisions made by the Passionist Provincial Council: 1881-1906

By Father Rob Carbonneau, C.P.


Before 1906 St. Paul of the Cross Province consisted of the entire United States Passionist ministry sites including Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1852), Virginia City, Nevada (1863-1864), Dunkirk, New York (1860), West Hoboken, New Jersey (1861), Baltimore, Maryland (1865), Cincinnati, Ohio (1871), and Louisville, Kentucky (1879). Mexico and South America were mission territory.

Because this era of Passionist history has received limited study, the Provincial Curia Minutes of St. Paul of the Cross Province, 1881-1924 is a rich guide to leadership decisions about Passionist seminary life and ordination of priests, confirmation of rectors: religious superiors and vicars: assistant superiors, as well as reassignment of Passionist personnel: priests and brothers.

In 1906 two United States Passionist provinces were created. East of the Ohio River was St. Paul of the Cross Province. West of the Ohio River was Holy Cross Province. Examination of these selected decisions of the Provincial and his Council from 1881-1906 is a first-hand look at this understudied period.

Bear in mind, as you read, that a provincial was elected every three years at a provincial chapter attended only by rectors. Eight different provincials, (some with multiple terms) held office from 1881 to 1906. [See Passionist Provincials.] During this time, the provincial council (curia) consisted of the provincial and two consultors (advisers). The provincial council could meet as many as five times a year. Meetings in January, April and December were set in stone. Meetings of the provincial council did rotate from monastery to monastery.

The excerpts below concentrate on Passionist properties which I have classified by location. In other cases, theme is a better marker. In any sense, we get insight on Passionist finances and the decision-making process to build, not build, or rebuild, a Passionist monastery. Pay special attention to the Passionist efforts in Mexico and Argentina. Today, Passionists rarely reflect on this historic link to the Spanish-speaking world.

Dunkirk, New York:

The ongoing desire of the Passionists for solitude was the impetus behind the following decision: “As grave objections have always existed against the Retreat of Dunkirk, on account of its situation in the midst of the village, and yet it is desirable for us to retain an establishment in that vicinity,” the provincial, on December 26, 1881, asked his council “whether it might be advisable to purchase a plot of ground near Dunkirk where a retreat might be built—more in accordance with our Rule.” At the next meeting, April 13, 1882, it was determined that the Passionists were not in a position to initiate a new land purchase. However, they were in a position “to begin in an informal way a preparatory school.”

By August 30, 1886 discussion again centered on Dunkirk proper as the home for the preparatory school. On August 6, 1888 permission had been given to enlarge St. Mary’s monastery in town so the school could operate efficiently. It was reported that the first year, 1887-1888, had been a success. Even with the success, it was the opinion of the provincial at the time that the site of the preparatory school at St. Mary’s was “too small for the present necessities.” Before the council came a choice. Was it worth the cost to expand the facilities at St. Mary’s? Yes. It was decided, at the August meeting, to add on to St. Mary’s Retreat. In addition, a decision was made at the December 4, 1888 meeting to buy two lots adjacent to the present site. It was a move that would not increase the debt.

Dunkirk was back in the news on January 15, 1894 when the matter before the provincial and council was the choice to place the parochial school under the auspices of the New York Board of Regents. At that time, it was decided to seek more information. Eventually, the school did comply to the Regents board.

Parish Ministry:

Assignment of parishes to Passionist care has been an ongoing point of debate. The April 13, 1882 council meeting following the advice of the previous General Chapter “concluded that the reasons for retaining St. Joseph’s Parish, Mt. Olivet [Pittsburgh], PA, have almost ceased to exist, and consequently steps should be taken towards its final relinquishment.” However, the council meeting of August 26, 1882 put the plan in limbo because an opinion had emerged that the parish might be the best place to operate a preparatory school. In the end the parish was relinquished.

Another example of this debatable issue is the Passionists’ desire to give up the German Catholic parish in Union Hill, New Jersey [Union City after 1925]. Brought to the council meeting on May 29, 1883, the option appeared reasonable because the debt had been paid off. If kept, the Passionists would start to incur a new debt especially since there was every indication that a new church might have to be built. Compounding the issue was the fact that a choice had been made to assign two priests to Buenos Aires, Argentina, which in turn meant less men were available for assignment to parishes. At the same time, German-speaking priests were needed to fulfill the requests to preach parish missions to German-speaking Catholics. A decision was made that the best available option was to approach the Bishop of Newark about his willingness to take back the parish. Similar was the situation at St. Cecilia’s, Louisville, Kentucky. It was thought to be prudent to give that parish back to the bishop.

St. Louis, Missouri:

It was at the October 14, 1884 provincial curia meeting that discussion revolved around the request that the Passionists begin a foundation in St. Louis. The thirteen acre site had the price tag of $35,000. The provincial, based upon advice of real estate agents and his first consultor, inked the deal on September 20, 1884. The retreat was to be named Mater Dolorosa.

Over time a more adequate facility was needed. Consequently, on August 6, 1888 the curia agreed that money had to be borrowed for the purchase of a different site. At the same time, debate on the issue withstanding, it was deemed wise to accept administration of a small local parish nearby. To insure success in the new effort, the provincial and council agreed to seek, if need be, a financial rescript from the Passionists in Rome which would permit the provincial to underwrite the project. All things were in place by August 12, 1889. Minutes of that meeting recall how the first Passionist site on Page Avenue had been sold and how the $22,000 cash on hand was then allotted to a new site. It was decided to immediately lay the foundation for a new monastery at Normandy, a St. Louis suburb. It was to be known as Our Lady of Good Counsel Monastery. Progress on the building effort was discussed at the meeting of January 2-3, 1890. On June 8, 1891 the Provincial and his council members actually held their meeting at Normandy. By November 6, 1899 life there had become so busy that the curia decided to issue rules of responsibility for the monastery rector, the pastor of the parish and his assistant. At the same time, the council approved a Passionist priest be appointed as chaplain to Convent of the Good Shepherd and another to the Oblates of Providence. The latter group was a branch of those founded by Mother Mary Lange, a Black Catholic from Baltimore.

Baltimore, Maryland:

By April 2, 1888 the Passionists needed to expand in Baltimore. Permission was given by the council at that time to purchase land for a possible parochial school and also for a parish church should the case arise. On December 4, 1888 the provincial confirmed that Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore had agreed that parish school property should be bought and “that said property should be held in our title, still holding the parish responsible to us for all the expenses thereby incurred.” All the members of the Council agreed to proceed, but since the decision “would necessarily involve a new debt of something over one thousand dollars and as there is still a debt on St. Joseph’s Retreat, the undertaking was referred” to the Superior General for his required permission. On April 24, 1889 permission was given by the provincial for the Baltimore superior to acquire the necessary property.

South America:

Responding to a direct request of the Passionist Superior General, the April 2, 1885 meeting of the provincial and council agreed to assign one priest and three students of theology to Mexico. Some of the particulars of that assignment—which needed permission of the Superior General—were still pending at the May 18, 1886 meeting. At the August 30, 1886 meeting a report was given. All was in place. For a good many years Mexico and Buenos Aires, Argentina were off the council agenda. The mission merited a good portion of attention at the September 1, 1891 meeting.

In 1892 the Council gave much attention to South America. Because of political unrest in Mexico, the concerns of the region were brought to the table again on January 4, 1892. At the following meeting of April 13, 1892 it was advised that the provincial send two priests to investigate the possibility to establish a Passionist foundation in Silao, Mexico. August 19, 1892 required some attention to ministry activity in Buenos Aires. At the same meeting it was concluded that Silao be operated under Passionist auspices. Discussions on both locations on December 28, 1892 led the council to retain the “status quo” until after the next provincial chapter. At the July 26, 1893 meeting it was decided to have one of the Passionists in Mexico be present at the chapter.

By September 7, 1895 it was apparent that Argentina was occupying more administrative time. Finally on December 21, 1895 the council agreed to examine the proposal of the Superior General in Rome that a South American Province be established and that Mexico be annexed to the Province of St. Paul of the Cross. “The unanimous opinion expressed is, that for all reasons considered—Mexico should not be attached to our Province of St. Paul of the Cross. The language, national publications—past experience have taught this lesson. It was desired best to form a new Province for S. America including houses in Chili [sic], Buenos Aires—and Mexico. The geographical lines—the similarity of language and national customs & facility for expediting business—favor this plan.” The idea was reaffirmed by the curia on April 8, 1896 and sent on to the Superior General for his approval. Some of the financial technicalities surrounding the issue were addressed in an April 6, 1898 meeting. Argentina was discussed in other meetings through 1901. At the May 30, 1901 meeting the provincial and council decided that they would agree with the probable decision of the Superior General in Rome and let go of their responsibility for Argentina and support creation of a South American province. Hope was that any members of St. Paul of the Cross Province would be given preference to return to the United States.


At times Passionist foundations were to share the financial burden. The council meeting of January 4, 1892 “determined what amount of the surplus money on hand in several houses of the Province might be given to the more needy retreats.”

Scranton, Pennsylvania:

At the January 19, 1901 meeting curia members first discussed the idea of a Passionist foundation in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania. Consultors were asked to visit the area and the issue was commented on in a positive vein on December 27, 1901. At the March 5, 1902 meeting permission was given to go out and purchase property under the name St. Andrew’s Passionist Monastery. Building plans were discussed on February 3, 1903. As was common, the August 4, 1903 meeting established the necessary tax accessed to each Passionist house in order to assist the Scranton foundation. Pittsburgh, $10,000; Baltimore, $5,000, West Hoboken, $8,000—”besides which would be realized on sale of lots”—Dunkirk, $2,000; Louisville, $1,000; St. Louis, $5,000; St. Paul, Kansas, $5,000.

Louisville, Kentucky:

On February 8, 1894 it was decided to raze the Louisville frame church which had been moved to the Passionist property by the local bishop. This would allow building of a church and enlargement of the monastery “so as to accommodate the people coming there. This to be done at a moderate expense, and [with] no change in the exterior of our building.” On July 31, 1900, the provincial and council decided not to accept a proposal to begin a foundation in Manitow, Colorado. However, later things changed, for the minutes reveal that the desire for Passionists to operate in Colorado and Pennsylvania had made the Louisville monastery expendable. Province reorganization was the call! Notes at the April 11, 1901 meeting state “the experience of twenty years having made it plain that the existing [h]ouse at Louisville, Ky., is of little or no value to the Province; moreover it being evidently necessary to rebuild at Louisville if we are to remain there at all; it was resolved: to write to the Fr. General & request necessary permission for withdrawing from the Louisville Diocese, and accepting foundations in the Dioceses of Scranton & Denver.” However, by the August 22, 1904 meeting the mood had changed. A decision was made by provincial and council to redevelop Louisville. Furthermore, the December 28, 1905 minutes note that it was the provincial and council that directly influenced postponing the demise of the Louisville foundation. At the same meeting information is shared that many of the struggles over the site were reconciled among the various contending parties.

City Island, New York:

Action was taken at the December 19, 1904 meeting to answer the request of Archbishop John Farley that the Passionists open a foundation at City Island, New York. He wished them to reside in the local parish—it could house eight religious. Though, it had a debt of $12,000, the stipulation that was unacceptable to the Passionists was the request of the Archbishop that “refractory” [unmanageable] priests of the diocese be kept in residence “on a protracted retreat. This, the Passionists refused to do.” In the end a compromise plan was worked out and sent on for approval of the Superior General in Rome. Another New York site was chosen years later.

Chicago, Illinois:

At the 1899 Provincial Chapter, it became known that the Archdiocese of Chicago might be open to a Passionist foundation. Consequently council members at their November 6, 1899 meeting discussed the issue. At the January 8, 1900 meeting a written proposal was sent to the Archbishop of Chicago. However, by the April 17, 1900 council meeting the idea was “left in abeyance” pending a response. At the August 4, 1903 meeting it was agreed to seek out a suitable site in Chicago. In fact, Archbishop Quigley was holding back on letting the Dominicans pick a site until after the Passionists made their selection. By December 19, 1903 Norwood Park was the preferred location. Cost was $21,500. It was also agreed to build a church for $4,000 or $5,000 and renovate the existing house on the property.

Cincinnati, Ohio:

As early as December 28, 1892 the council thought about, but did not act on, building new churches at the Passionist foundations in Louisville and Cincinnati. On November 14, 1893 it was agreed to undertake the building of a new church on the site of the old one adjacent to the Cincinnati monastery while at the same time expanding the monastery. Architects, who were to receive 3% of the total cost of the project, were to have plans ready by Ash Wednesday, 1894. These new plans were to lay out the parameters for a new monastery choir, library, and recreation rooms. On February 7, 1894 the curia agreed to start the building project. At the April 17, 1900 meeting the council decided that each respective monastery contribute the following for the building costs: Pittsburgh, $12,000, & more if possible; Dunkirk, $7,000 if possible; West Hoboken, $5,000; Baltimore, $5,000; Louisville, nil; St. Louis, $5,000; St. Paul, Kansas, $5,000.

June 2, 1901 was the formal dedication of the new building. On December 27, 1901 a final tabulation showed that Pittsburgh gave $10,200; Baltimore, $3,000; West Hoboken, $2,600; Dunkirk, $5,000; Louisville, $500; St. Louis, $5,000; St. Paul, Kansas, $5,000.

St. Paul, Kansas:

At the January 5, 1894 council meeting the matter of taking responsibility for the Osage Mission parish in Osage, Kansas was discussed. Assignment of priests was discussed at the January 15, 1894 meeting. The council meeting of September 10, 1894 was held in Kansas.

Other Offers:

The meeting of April 20, 1881 considered investigating the use of property in Richmond, Virginia given to the Passionists through a bequest of one Mr. Mactavish.

On August 17, 1883 the provincial and council agreed to refuse a request made by the Bishop of Marquette, Wisconsin that the Passionists take responsibility for a English, French and German congregation. As previously mentioned, a proposal to begin a foundation in Manitow, Colorado was not accepted at the July 31, 1900 meeting, but it came close to being realized. We have no more details on this issue. On June 19, 1902 a choice was made not to accept the invitation to begin a new foundation at Hokah, Minnesota in the Diocese of Winona.

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