Passionist Spirituality and Leadership

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by Bishop Paul M. Boyle, C.P.

Bishop Paul M. Boyle, C.P.

Introduction by Fr. Rob Carbonneau, C.P., Editor

2006 is a year of jubilee for the Passionists of Holy Cross Province based in Chicago, Illinois. It is a centennial celebration. Any institutional celebration offers a great perspective on how the past and present come together. At the same time, such celebrations are opportunities to ponder our personal journeys.

It is in this spirit that I asked Bishop Paul M. Boyle, C.P. to write a personal historical reflection on how he had come to understand the meaning of Passionist spirituality and leadership in his ministry. Graciously he accepted and sent the following essay. It is my hope that this reflection leads all Passionists and friends of the Passionists to consider the events and people that have shaped their own institutional and personal experiences of leadership and ministry. Taken from another perspective, each of us might consider how family, education, and the workplace have shaped our public persona. Finally, as an historian and archivist I have every hope that Bishop Boyle’s essay serves as a catalyst for others to appreciate that an appropriate sharing of their historical experience can be a useful tool for ongoing planning, discernment, dialogue, and reconciliation. After all, we might do well to remember that we are the people whose voices shape our every day secular or religious institutional memories.

Bishop Paul M. Boyle is a Passionist from Holy Cross Province. He was professed in 1946 and ordained in 1953. He has been a teacher, provincial (1968-1976), and superior general of the Passionists (1976-1988). In 1991 he was first appointed Vicar Apostolic of the Diocese of Mandeville, Jamaica, West Indies. In 1997 he was named Bishop of Mandeville. He retired in 2004 and presently resides with the Passionist community in Louisville, Kentucky.

The following comments are in response to a request that I share some things on four areas of my life.

Studies and Education

My early studies were all in Catholic schools in Detroit. At the end of my sophomore year in high school [St. Mary of Redford in Detroit] I entered the Passionist Seminary in Normandy, Missouri. There I finished high school and two years of college. I don’t remember much about my education before the seminary but I doubt if studies played a big role in my life. My recollections are connected more with sports. In the seminary I found that most studies came easily to me and I enjoyed most of them. Scientific matters, however, were never easy or attractive for me. Courses in English literature and Liturgy were particularly interesting and rewarding.

After the novitiate, my college education continued for three more years with a major in philosophy in our Passionist Seminary in Detroit and then Des Moines. This was followed by four years of theology in our monasteries in Chicago and Louisville. For the most part we had excellent teachers who challenged us. Again I found the studies easy and enriching.

In 1953 I was ordained a priest and spent the next year in Sierra Madre, California studying the art and science of homiletic writing and speaking. Each weekend we would help out in parishes in the Los Angeles area, using what we had learned about preparing and delivering sermons. During this year of what was called “Sacred Eloquence” I was privileged to go with two of our seasoned missionaries for parish missions. I also preached a retreat at a local high school. The response to my efforts was deeply gratifying and I was filled with a longing to devote my energies full-time to this ministry.

Instead, at the end of the year of Sacred Eloquence I was assigned to go to Rome for graduate studies in Moral Theology and after that to study Canon Law. At that time Italy was just recovering from the devastation of war and life in our monastery was Spartan. My first year there was very difficult. Even classes at the Angelicum University [now St. Thomas University] were a disappointment as I felt that [with one exception] the professors I had in the seminary were at least as good and as challenging as those in the university.

After obtaining my degree in theology my next two years were at the Lateran University studying Canon Law. Most of my professors were outstanding and I found the classes very interesting. Two of my professors became Cardinals and others served important positions in the Holy See.

One afternoon a week during my three years in Rome I attended a course conducted by what was then called the Congregation for Religious. This was a wonderful experience and gave me a deep insight into the “mind” and practice of the Roman Curia. This, I believe, proved to be helpful for the rest of my life.

After returning to the United States I was assigned to teach in our theology seminary in Louisville, Kentucky and later in the Benedictine school of theology at St. Meinrad, Indiana. For three summers I attended Northwestern University, following a course in speech and drama. Two summers I went to St. John University, Collegeville, for workshops on Pastoral Counseling. Other summers I taught courses at St. Xavier College [now University] in Chicago.


In May of 1968 my work as a teacher ended when I was elected Provincial Superior of Holy Cross Province. My term of office was for six years, but I quickly decided that I would resign after three years, allowing the Province to choose a different leader if they desired. In 1971 I was elected again, this time for a term of four years. At the end of that period I was postulated for a third term. When the Vice General, Father Sebastian Camera telephoned the Congregation for Religious to approve the postulation, he learned that the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation had died that morning. The Secretary, Archbishop Myer, approved the postulation.

Vatican Council had just ended and the Church was struggling with the introduction of new patterns of thought and action. Many older people were deeply concerned about the new attitudes and many younger people were agitating for quicker and more radical changes. Numerous priests and religious were giving up their service of the Church. I remember an article in a national newspaper commenting that the only two clerical communities unscathed were the Columbans and the Chicago Province of Passionists. Three months after my election the first priest left our Province. Within about two years our departures had caught up with other communities. Those early years as Provincial were, without compare, the most difficult of my life. In three years I wept more than in the previous twenty-five.

Departures were not the only source of heartaches. As in any group, there were differences of opinion, often strongly held differences. Between deaths and departures the number of religious decreased and it was necessary to close monasteries. During my tenure I closed nine foundations, always causing hurt to some of those most closely affected. An inevitable part of leadership is making hard decisions or as I came to express it to other superiors: “That’s what you get paid for.” What some call “tough love” is one element of responsible caring. While leadership at any time involves difficulties, they were particularly acute during those years of change. Although incomparably modest in comparison to the reality experienced by Jesus, my difficulties were a keenly felt participation in the Passion. Eventually I came to know a measure of growth and a slight increase in patient understanding of the feelings of others. For five years I served as President of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men [CMSM] in the United States and believe I was able to offer other superiors a bit of the same consolation that I had received.


In 1976 I was elected Superior General and spent the next twelve years in Rome. That was the richest experience of my life as I came to know our Congregation better and something of the universal church. I was privileged to serve on committees for the Congregations for the Propagation of the Faith and for Religious Life. I was appointed a Consultor to the former and eventually appointed a voting member of the Plenarium of the latter. Three times I was elected by the Superiors General to represent them at the Synods of Bishops on Family Life; Laity; Penance and Reconciliation. [Later the Bishops of the Antilles elected me as their delegate to the Synod on Religious Life.] Twice I served on the Board of Directors for the International Union of Superiors General. As a member of that Board I was part of a group of eight Superiors General that met about a dozen times with Pope John Paul II to discuss matters of common interest. These were two-hour sessions followed by lunch with the Holy Father. They were fascinating discussions. The Pope encouraged us to share our concerns and experiences frankly, reminding us that only by such an open exchange would we help him and members of our communities. I recall his saying one time something to the effect that “I like meeting with you men. Your experiences and interests are universal. So often a Bishop is interested only in his own diocese or, at most, his own country. You are interested in the universal church.”

During my time in Rome I was able to visit every Passionist mission and meet almost every one of our religious. Usually I was able to speak with the local Bishop and also the Papal Representative. All of this, of course, gave me a greater awareness of the impressive work carried on by our Passionists in the wide variety of circumstances in different nations. It was an impressive reminder of that saying of our Founder, St. Paul of the Cross, that love is ingenious. Our religious found a rich variety of ways to teach and manifest the love of Jesus.

During those years after the Vatican Council each Province and Vice Province held at least one extraordinary Chapter or business meeting. Since the Superior General presides at each Chapter, I had numerous opportunities to listen to days of debate on issues affecting the life of the religious in each of our territories. These discussions were frequently heated exchanges because they touched values dear to the hearts of the men. I know of no better opportunity to learn the thoughts and appreciate the feelings of religious than to listen to their exchanges in a legislative assembly like a Chapter.


When I completed my time as General I was offered a job in Rome but believed it was best for my successor and myself to leave. After an enjoyable sabbatical at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkley, I went to one of our houses in Puerto Rico. I helped out in our parish and also conducted retreats in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. I preached a retreat to the priests in the Virgin Islands as well as taught their men preparing for the Permanent Deaconate.

After a halcyon two years in Puerto Rico, in 1991 I was asked to go to Jamaica to serve as Bishop of a new ecclesiastical jurisdiction or Apostolic Vicariate. It is not the purpose of this brief article to discuss the poverty of my people or the difficulties connected with starting a new local church.

In my visits to Passionist Missions around the world I often heard our men affirm that they received more than they gave. I regarded it as a pious thought. Not long after I came to Jamaica I learned the truth of this affirmation. Certainly on a material level what any missionary can give is more than he or she receives. But the poor show us many invaluable things. In their poverty they are keenly aware of their utter dependence upon God and they regard all as gift. Gratitude is an integral, essential component of their life. The Providence of a loving God is something taken for granted, accepted as a fact of daily life.

The poor are generous with their time and talents. Sociologists explain it by saying that the poor realize their dependence upon one another, hence their readiness to assist others. Whatever the explanation, it is impressive to see how willingly the poor will help others. Calls for volunteers to clean the church, cut the grass, paint the school-these types of appeals receive a ready response.

People are anxious to hear about God and his care for them. They long for instructions. In particular they want to learn more about the Bible. Jamaicans, at least, are a Bible loving people. Even the many unable to read learn passages, especially psalms, by heart.

It was my practice to celebrate Mass in two different parishes each Sunday. For the first few months I used to remind the people that I was a “baby bishop and baby Jamaican.” If they loved me and wanted to help me, they had to do what one does with a baby: correct him. “Bishop, we don’t do it that way; this is not our custom.” Naturally, at first people were embarrassed to correct me. But after a few months I started receiving the comment that I heard throughout my time in Jamaica [except from the Cathedral parish]: “Bishop, you don’t talk long enough.” Protestant pastors normally preach for 45 to 75 minutes and rural people wanted longer sermons.

The poor love to sing. Twenty Jamaicans singing in church will make as much noise as an American congregation of a thousand. If there are twenty verses in the book, twenty verses are sung. All with gusto! Singing is a prayer of praise or petition and the poor pray with voice, heart and body. Their joy in the Lord is infectious. Living with them one can’t help but become more immersed in their awareness of the goodness and kindness of their Savior.


These brief reflections fill me with a strong sense of gratitude for the many blessings I have been given. I have had unique opportunities to know religious life and the universal church. Perhaps more than most I have seen the warts and bruises in religious communities and the church at large but I feel certain that few have seen greater holiness, wisdom and lovableness than I have found. A few have been outstanding in all three qualities: sanctity, brilliance and lovability. Many have manifested at least two of these qualities in an outstanding degree and extremely rare has been the individual or organization that has not been admirable for at least one of these qualities.

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