Living Styles in Our Province’s History

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In these essays for our seventy-fifth jubilee I am trying to reflect not only on the more notable historical events such as foundations, building programs, ministries, etc., but also on the simpler day-by-day activities that our religious experienced during these years. It was in this spirit that we reflected upon community life and the Eucharist during the Province’s history.

In this essay I want to offer “memories” of practices that emphasize an “unworldly,” “poor” and “penitential” lifestyle. Perhaps such reflections will help us to appreciate the various living styles we have experienced. And in this way we may be able to prepare ourselves for what the future holds in store for us.


In 1906 the new Holy Cross Province continued the ways of “religious living” of the undivided Province of St. Paul of the Cross. The “regular observance” set the pattern for each day with its time for prayer, study, work, sleep, meals and recreations. These patterns made-up what we can call our ways of “religious living.” It was precisely these very patterns which distinguished us from “seculars” and made our “religious living” quite distinct from “life in the world.”

Our dress (a religious habit, sandals, etc.), our food (fasting and abstaining and severely regulated, etc.), our beds (straw mattresses on plain boards), our rooms (carpet-less, no drapes, etc.), all this set us apart. There are many other examples of this, such as having a “half-day” free from school and work on Thursday afternoon, while Saturday was part school day and part work day. We continued “siesta” or a nap in the afternoon for years – and perhaps even today – even when we were no longer getting up during the night for Matins. For many decades, too, we ate our main meal at noon when fellow-Americans had time only for a brief lunch.

Throughout the early decades of our history we accepted modern conveniences quite reluctantly for we saw that these were “secular luxuries.” The Louisville community, for example, struggled with the problem of installing a telephone. Automobiles were only gradually introduced and then only one for the entire community. So also earlier Passionists were reluctant to introduce the radio and later on the television into our communities. Typewriters, private libraries, private bathrooms, offices separate from the sleeping room – these were all only slowly, painfully, permitted amid constant questioning. Our written regulations frowned on silk umbrellas, white handkerchiefs, yellow gold watches. Our Provincial legislation forbade the use of white scarves, wrist watches, the wearing of secular dress in the house, etc.

We maintained many traditional ways of living and many Italian practices because we felt that these helped us to be “more religious” and less “worldly.” In today’s parlance we might even say that the religious were quite anxious to be “counter-cultural,” for this was the tradition handed down by Saint Paul of the Cross.


One of the things that distinguished us from “seculars” was the variety of penitential practices common among us. One of the greatest penances was the practice of fasting and abstinence. On every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday we fasted and abstained from meat. We did this also during the entire time of Lent and Advent. Even on the Sundays of Lent and Advent we abstained from meat, but were not obliged to fast. Saint Paul of the Cross had left the Congregation with perpetual abstinence. This had been modified after his death. It was not until 1931 that the text of the Rule made mention of the mitigated fast and abstinence allowed by the Papal Decree of 1785. In 1959 the revised Rule mitigated the regulations for fasting and abstinence even more. In 1970 the Chapter Document left this practice to the decisions of the local communities. In the Provincial Chapter of 1975 there was a Decree to abstain from meat twice a week. This Enactment has been continued as a recommendation by the Provincial Chapter of 1979.

Another practice of penance was austere silence in the monastery. We were not to break silence in conversation or even in greeting one another until after the midday meal. In fact, on ordinary days there were only two periods in which silence was not observed, namely the two recreation periods after the noon and evening meals. During the other times one could speak quietly where there was need or permission. And the Provincials almost always called to the attention of the religious the “Rule of Silence” as something all should observe.

There were other personal or public penances such as “culpa,” prostration, the begging of prayers, the discipline, the Friday Chapter, etc. During the four great Novenas of the year each religious was assigned a day of complete silence, when he would also take his noon meal sitting on the floor, washing dishes, and other such acts. In more recent years the religious observed the Review of Life and some practice days of solitude and prayer.


Another important aspect of the living styles in our Province’s history would be the practices of personal poverty or perhaps today we would prefer to call this the practice of personal detachment. It might be well to recall some of these practices of the past and of the present.

For years the religious would ask the local Superior for the so-called “weekly permissions” each week. By this act the religious acknowledged that the use of even the very normal necessary things for one’s wellbeing was allowed only by an act of charity on the part of the Superior acting in the name of the community. Over and above the ordinary things contained in these “weekly permissions” special permission would be needed from the local Superior or even from the Provincial Superior. For example, for many years a religious was not permitted to have a typewriter for his own personal use, except with the written permission of the Provincial. Written permission of the Provincial was also necessary to take personal books from one house to another when transferred. Frequently a religious would write on the inside of the cover of the book “ad usum Rogerii” or whatever one’s name was to indicate that this book was personally assigned to the individual for his use. Other times permission had to be asked “toties quoties” or each individual time for the use of certain objects, for example, one did not presume to take the car from the garage without an explicit “toties quoties” permission.

One of the very explicit acts of personal poverty expected of all the religious for many years concerned the use of cash money. Our Province retained from the Eastern Chapter of 1884 the Enactment that read: “No private religious can be allowed to keep money constantly in his possession.” One went to the Vicar of the house for carfare and any spending money needed when going to the city for whatever purposes. One was expected to bring whatever cash was not spent to the Vicar on one’s return to the monastery. As time went on this became a burdensome practice, both for the Vicar as well as for the religious. There was a time when those driving cars frequently would ask to keep several dollars in their billfold for emergencies. There were also times when loose change was kept outside the Vicar’s door for those needing small change for carfare or other incidental expenses. Later on there developed the “open drawer policy” whereby the cash on hand or “petty cash” was kept in a box available to all. This is the practice in most of the communities today. One is expected to write on a slip of paper money taken from “petty cash.” Also in recent years the policy of personal budgets has developed, as well as the use of gasoline cards, credit cards and in some special cases bank accounts.


One of the duties of the Superior and especially of the Provincial was forcefully and publicly to speak out against all “abuses creeping into” our daily life. You will find such admonitions in the visitation books of the various communities year after year. Such matters are also taken up from time to time by the Provincial in his letter convoking the next Provincial Chapter. In 1941 Father Boniface Fielding wrote a very strong letter on this matter of “abuses creeping in.” Let me give just a few sentences of his letter of August 4, 1941.

“Good Superiors are, indeed, necessary for upholding our spirit, but the cooperation of good subjects is also needed. For it is obvious to all, that neither laws alone – nor wholly capable Superiors alone – nor both, can supply for the lack of the spirit of obedience in the individual religious – for his failure to acquire the spirit of prayer, of poverty and solitude, sonecessary for maintaining our spirit. There would be more holiness and consequently more fidelity to our spirit if our attitude were one of constant fidelity in using the means of perfection as taught in ascetical theology, rather than the attitude of ever and anon, seeking dispensations and permissions based on mere moral and theological distinctions, since, for the most part these dispensations and permissions favor self love and the appetite for pleasure – and thus weaken the spirit of self-denial, the very warp and whoof of our spirit ..The substitutes borrowed from mere moral theological principles have a tendency to increase and multiply and thereby destroy regular discipline and throw all things into confusion. ..The Superior cannot without serious injury to discipline in the spirit of the order become a mere benevolent dispenser of favors, just to minister to physical pleasure. Here is a grave responsibility. If Superiors yield to increasing requests for relaxation of the strict discipline of the Passionist Rule of Life through the means of dispensations and permissions -gradually, instead of a common life based on Passionist Rule and motivated by Passionist ideals – we shall have a group living in community life, but many, seeking through a multiplicity of dispensations., to escape from the mortifications inherent in our promise of fidelity to Passionist life.”

Yes, these were the concerns and fears of our Superiors in years past. Theirs was the responsibility of preventing abuses from creeping in.


In the period at the end of the fifties and into the early sixties the question of religious living styles was taken up with “up-dating”, adaptation and renewal. These were matters that were discussed in the General Chapter of 1964 and in the Provincial Chapter of 1965 and again in the Provincial Chapter of 1968.

This stress on “up-dating” led us in Holy Cross Province to change many practices and to “modernize” our houses and our ways of life. As early as 1959 when the Revised Rule was approved by Pope John XXIII our food and fasting regulations were greatly mitigated, night matins was observed only one night a week, in general our living styles were modernized. At the Provincial Chapter of 1965 a twenty-day vacation was allowed to all the professed religious of the Province for the first time by Chapter Enactment. Other adaptations were enacted at the 1968 Provincial Chapter and at the 1970 General Chapter. There was a great effort to become at last “the Church in the Modern World.”

Up-dating meant that we must be professional in our ministries and educational preparations. Up-dating also implied that we would live as “mature religious” and not in a childish, juvenile or servile manner. Above all, we strove to live in a way that did not separate us from “the modern world.” One should read not only the documents of Vatican II, but also some of the material from our Provincial Chapters and the General Chapters of the 1960s.


Almost at the very same moment when we were at long last entering “the modern world” another cry was heard – this time against “consumerism” – against the “first world values.” Ultimately the cry became “counter-cultural.”

The cry for the “counter-culture” began to be heard in demands for “simplicity of life.” It received a great impetus from the energy crisis of the mid-1970s that perhaps there were not enough material goods for all the peoples of the earth. We began to realize that it is wrong for the first world nations to consume the far greater amount of the resources of the earth, whether oil or food or minerals.

This concern for “simplicity of life” and “counter-culture” inspired the recommendations of the two last Provincial Chapters in regard to social concerns and even in regard to our style of food, whether at home or when away from the community. Perhaps it also influences our dress and attire when outside our religious houses, for frequently we dress not as religious or clergy nor as professional or educational me but in quite casual attire. But then “casual attire” takes on a new “cultural value,” it becomes not so much “counter-culture” as “the in-thing.”

At the time that I am writing it is not clear how far this “counterculture” movement will go and what changes it will effect in our religious living styles.

My concluding summary is simply this: during these seventy-five years we first see in our Province an “unworldly” style of life into which there was the constant fear of “abuses creeping in.” Then there was a very vigorous and fervent period of “up-dating” and catching-up with the modern world. Finally, in the last few years there has emerged the advocacy of a third style of life, one which would achieve “simplicity of life” and which would be “counter-cultural.”

What will the future be? To return to the earlier practices could be pure nostalgic. To continue to “up-date” could perhaps make us too “worldly” and perhaps too comfortable. To take counter-culture and simplicity of life to its ultimate stages could be unrealistic if not downright destructive of religious life as structural form.

Perhaps the earlier practices of what I called an “unworldly” style of life resulted from a very literal continuation of the practices of St. Paul of the Cross without assessing them in the light of the Gospel and of modern practice. The “up-dating” style of life perhaps took the model of “Church in the Modern World” too literally and too quickly and neglected the Paulacrucian roots of our life.

The “counter-cultural” style of life is responding to a very real situation in these last years of the twentieth century, but should be assessed in the light of sociological principles and even more so in the light of New Testament teaching.

I hope that this essay will stir up memories of the past and inspire reflections for our future.

Very Rev. Roger Mercurio, C. P.
Provincial Superior
May 21, 1981

Please contact Fr. Rob Carbonneau, C.P. at [email protected] if you have any comments. Permission of Archives needed for publication.