Seventy-five Years of Passionist Parish Missions

Home / Publications / Historical Reflections / Reflections on Holy Cross Province / Seventy-five Years of Passionist Parish Missions

Our Diamond Jubilee should, in the very first place, honor the seventy-five years of parish missions by Passionist missionaries of Holy Cross Province. There is so much that can be remembered about our mission ministry throughout these many years. There are so many things that should be remembered. I hope that my few remarks will stir-up memories in the hearts of others. Above all, I hope that our memories will inspire the commitment to this ministry by the young religious of tomorrow.

The missionaries of the new Province continued the tradition and spirit of the “Undivided Province” of St. Paul of the Cross. There were in the new Province missionaries who had taken part in the great Passionist Missionary Congress of 1894. As the new century began several missionaries developed various forms of parish missions. We are reminded of the missions to non-Catholics which Father Xavier Sutton began in 1899 and to which he devoted more and more of his time and energies. We think also of Father Benedict Hanley who excelled in missions to children and to young people. The great American Passionist missionary spirit continued in the new Province of Holy Cross.


The Provincial Chapters of the new Province concerned themselves again and again with the ministry of parish missions. The very first Chapter of 1908 approved the mission directory of the Eastern Province and expected all the missionaries of the new Province to conform to this directory. At the same time this Chapter recognized that there was a need of giving a formal method for conducting non-Catholic missions which were becoming more and more popular.

Succeeding Chapters continued the concern with the Mission Directory. In 1914 certain modifications of the Directory were recommended. The Chapters of 1932 and 1935 asked that a committee be formed to revise the Directory. A later Chapter in 1950 repeated such a recommendation.

It was the Extraordinary Provincial Chapter of 1969 that decentralized the mission appointment procedures. Up until this time all mission appointments in the midwest had been made by the Provincial himself. The Rector of the Sierra Madre community made the appointments for the West Coast missions. The 1969 Chapter decided that the missionaries themselves, with their local Superiors, should accept missions directly. This is the procedure presently employed in the Province.


We have already mentioned the great Missionary Congress of the “Undivided Province” of 1894. The first Missionary Congress in our Province was called by Father Herman Stier, Provincial. In a letter of March 2, 1945, he announced a Missionary Congress to be held at Normandy, Missouri, in the summer of that year. Each community was to choose its delegates to this Congress. The full report of the Congress was published in the entire October 1945 issue of The Passionist Bulletin .

The second Missionary Congress of Holy Cross Province was called by Father Neil Parsons, Provincial, on April 3, 1958. This Congress was held at Warrenton, Missouri January 12-15, 1959. There are reports of the Congress in the February and April, 1959, issues of The Passionist , Volume 12.

The third Missionary Congress was called by Father Walter Kaelin in 1961. This Congress was held January 15-19, 1962, at Warrenton, Missouri.

A Mission Conference was held in 1977 at St. Catherine’s College, St. Paul, Minnesota. The religious were invited to attend the Word of God Convention in the City of Minneapolis, August 26-27 and then participate in our own Conference at St. Catherine’s, August 28-29. There is a report of this Congress in The Passionist , Volume 6, 1978. This Congress led to a missionary meeting in Detroit, January 3-6, 1978, at which time the Passionist Missionary Association was formed. The PMA has been meeting annually since then.


The new Province of Holy Cross continued to use the Directory of the Undivided Province which had been published in 1897. There was a revision in 1928 and another revision in 1935.

In 1954 a very new and complete Directory was published at the recommendation of the 15th Provincial Chapter of 1950. Father Roland Maher, Father Stanislaus Geekie and Father Emmanuel Sprigler worked on this Directory which was promulgated by the Provincial, Father Neil Parsons, August 15, 1954.


At this point it is proper to mention “The Missionary Forum.” While the Forum was not an official action of the Province, it did take on very major importance for the development of our mission ministry. The Missionary Forum was announced in The Passionist , I, March, 1948, page 98. The next issue of The Passionist , May, 1948, page 224-232, initiated the Forum with a long article by Father Edwin Ronan. It continued in the following issues until early 1950. This Missionary Forum offered an opportunity for the missionaries of the Province to discuss various missionary problems and techniques, etc.


The official Mission Directory contained the form that the normal Passionist mission followed. This method, modified over the years by official actions of the Province, continued to be the main method by which we conduct parish missions. Basically, the parish mission consisted of the morning Masses with the instruction and the motive of the Passion, afternoon confessions, and the evening service, with the Rosary, the instruction on the Commandments or Confessions, the big sermon on the eternal truths or on the Passion, the appeal to Christ Crucified, and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The service was followed by the hearing of confessions for some time.

The mission, opened on Sunday morning or Sunday evening and closed on the following Sunday. In large parishes there would be a week for the women and another week for the men. In very large parishes there would be four weeks, one week for the married women, and another week for the unmarried women, and then one week for the married men and one week for the unmarried men. A mission usually had two men assigned to it and sometimes even more. In smaller parishes there would be only one missionary.

This basic form could be adapted for children’s missions or for missions to non-Catholics. Father Xavier Sutton excelled in the latter type. Frequently he would give a one-week Catholic mission and then the second week to the non-Catholics. Usually these non-Catholics consisted of the spouses of the Catholic people of the parish. When we went to the southwest California, Father Isidore Dwyer, Father Casmir DeChristina, Father Edward Viti and others began conducting Spanish missions for the Mexican-Americans in the area.

Another form that our parish ministry took was that of “street preaching.” In this method a missionary would go into a predominantly non-Catholic rural area and with the help of a loud speaker would preach at the public square of the small village or wherever possible. Different men have used this form of street preaching, such as Father Cornelius McGraw, Father Henry Vetter, Father Leon Grantz and more recently Father Blaise Czaja and Father Michael Brophy. You may recall other men who did street preaching in the past.

Another form of parish mission ministry was the so-called “home missions” or “dialogue missions.” These were sometimes follow-ups of regular missions in the Church or sometimes the entire stress was on the home dialogue missions. This method began in the late ’60s and continues into the present time.

Another form of our parish mission ministry is the “evangelistic mission” developed by Father Blaise Czaja and Father Michael Brophy and followed by several other men today. There is not the stress on catechesis and devotional practices as in the other forms of the mission. This method is basically a call to the Gospel and to the Lord Jesus.


The very first missions in the present territories of our Province were given in 1858 at St. Louis, Missouri. Father Gaudentius Rossi preached at the Cathedral of St. Louis on Second and Walnut Streets, while Fathers Anthony Calandri and Albino Magno preached at St. Patrick’s, Sixth and Biddle Streets. The dates were November 21 to December 8. Archbishop Peter Richard Kendrick was present each night at the Cathedral. These two great missions began a long history of mission work in Holy Cross Province (cf. Cassian Yuhaus, Compelled to Speak , p. 268-269).

The first missions on the west coast were conducted by Fathers John Phillip Baudinelli, Timothy Pacetti and Benedict Murname. They came from the east coast to conduct thirty-one missions and two retreats in the areas of Nevada and northern California from September 12, 1877 to June, 1878. Father Basil Killoran writes of these missions in his article on our first missions in northern California in The Passionist , 18 (1965) p. 9-15.

On October 5-11, 1884, Fathers James Ryan and Xavier Sutton opened a mission in the Church of St. Rose of Lima, Chicago, Illinois. Of this mission Father Xavier wrote: “Father Hayes had only a small frame church and beyond the church were few houses – the streets not paved. It was our first mission in Chicago for a long time . Father Hayes took us to see some of the pastors and everyone asked – are you the only English Fathers. Ain’t they all Italians? After this mission we had many calls for missions.”

Of this mission in the chronicles of Louisville we read: “There were few missions given during the remaining months of the year 1884, but one of these, conducted by Father James and Xavier for a small congregation in the City of Chicago, claims special mention. Sixteen years ago our Fathers from Italy who laid the foundations of this Province, were the first of any missionary Order to evangelize that growing city of the west. Their labors were blessed with great success, and they reaped a golden harvest of souls. But strange to say, their work seemed to be unappreciated, not indeed by the people but by the pastors who, of course, remembered with gratitude the striking effects of their ardent zeal and charity, but at the same time could not forget their foreign tone and accent. Moreover, during this long interval, the church increased the pace with the increase of that vast metropolis and as sacred edifices were building every year, youthful pastors were installed to whom our Fathers, who had hitherto preached the Cross mainly in the cities of the east, were unknown and uncalled for. Hence this little mission of these Fathers in the Church of St. Rose of Lima set ajar the gates that seemed closed for us. And in the spring of the year 1885 a series of large and successful missions introduced the Passionists to the clergy and the people at-large. These were all conducted by Very Rev. Father Rector, Robert McNamara, assisted by Father Cuthbert and Father James Ryan. These missions were conducted in close succession by these zealous missionaries, many converts were received or left under instruction, and the communicants reached the number of 4,000, 5,000, 4,000 and 2,000, respectively. The strength of the Fathers was sorely taxed and they were busily employed from the 12th of April to the middle of June” (Louisville Chronicles, Volume 1, p. 37-38). These missions were held at the Nativity Church, St. Patrick’s, St. Pius, and St. James.

Another great series of missions had been given earlier in Louisville by Father Charles, Father Alphonsus, Father Fidelis, Father Augustine Alexander. The first of these was at the Louisville Cathedral in November, 1877. The following year missions were given in several of the Louisville city parishes. These missions led to the foundation in Louisville in 1878.

Years later in 1924 Father Marcellus McCarthy gave the first mission in the Los Angeles area at St. Kevin’s Church in Los Angeles. This is the first mission reported in the Books of Missions and Retreats of the Sierra Madre community. During the rest of that year Father Marcellus gave missions at the Sacred Heart Church, Coronado, California, St. Bridget’s Church, Los Angeles, St. Mary’s Church, Santa Maria, California, St. Benedict’s Church, Montebello, California, and at the San Gabriel Mission Church. In the fall of 1924 he was assisted by Father Raphael Grashoff, who gave his first mission on the west coast at St. Rita’s Church in Sierra Madre.

In December, 1932, Father Isidore Dwyer and Father Casmir De Christiana conducted a one-week mission at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Los Angeles in Spanish. These two missionaries began a long series of Spanish-speaking missions. They were assisted after 1939 by Father Edward Viti and our ministry to the Hispanics in the southwest had begun.

During the Second World War our missionaries conducted missions for the military personnel. Also on the west coast Father Edward Viti conducted several missions for the Japanese in various concentration camps and also for Italian war prisoners.

In 1899 Father Xavier Sutton began his great non-Catholic missions at St. Raphael’s Church in New York City. For many years he would conduct non-Catholic missions in the parishes of the midwest. In many ways Father Xavier Sutton was the great missionary to non-Catholics. Let me add a few remarks about this great missionary.


Father Xavier Sutton, born in 1852, was 54 years old when Holy Cross Province was established. He had been on the missions for 24 years and had already begun his non-Catholic missions. More and more his interest lay in this ministry to non-Catholics. At the same time the young Province called upon him to serve as Rector of the Chicago Monastery (1911-1914) and as Provincial Consultor (1914-1917).

As the new Province formed, Father Xavier had a commitment in Pittsburgh. There late in the year he gave a three-weeks mission at St. John Baptist Church in Pittsburgh (one week was for non-Catholics). But from then on his work is in the midwest. In 1922 he gave a mission at Manayunk, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, September 24-October 8. In his notes he comments: “This was the first time any of us in the West crossed the line into the East to give a mission. We had a grand mission. The priests and people were commenting on the wonderful zeal and piety manifested by the people. Monsignor Murphy was more than kind to me.” Later in 1924 he notes: “From February of this year to May I was under the care of doctors at John Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland. Their treatment was successful in removing a tumor in the bladder and in September I was able to resume my work on the missions.”

All through these years in the new Province Father Xavier found time to give mission after mission. Let me give a few examples. September 15-22, 1907, with Father Mark he gave a mission at Holy Cross, Kentucky. Father Xavier notes: “This was the first parish formed in Kentucky. It was here the Catholics first settled when they came from Maryland. Everybody turned out for the mission – babies, dogs and Blacks all came – the people left their houses without locking a door. We had last services at 5 o’clock so that they could get home in good time. Often I saw a woman on horseback with a child in front and one or two seated behind on the same mule or horse.”

A few days later Father Xavier was in Cincinnati at Assumption Church. October 6-20, there he comments: “It was on this mission I started the Holy Name Society and in doing so I laid bare the apathy of Catholics in Cincinnati, how little they figure in public life and how small is their influence. I told them of the public parades in other cities, etc. They organized, got busy, and as a result, the monster parades of Holy Name Societies.”

In June and July of 1908 he is in Oklahoma. On November 21-28, 1909, he was in Detroit, Michigan at Blessed Sacrament Parish. He notes: “This was the first mission we ever had (presumably in Detroit?). It was of a mixed nature. The evening sermons were on doctrinal subjects and the morning sermon, relating to the Blessed Sacrament.” Earlier it seems that he was in Kansas from November, 1908, until April, 1909. We find him in small cities of Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin, etc. He gave several “monster missions” as he called them at St. Mel’s and also Mother of Sorrows in Chicago.

Of the one in 1918 he wrote: “There was a four weeks mission in Our Lady of Sorrow’s Church, Chicago, Illinois. It opened on the 17th of February and closed on the 17th of March. Father Cyril and Ignatius helped me. It was one of the largest missions ever given out West. We have over 10,000 confessions and 22,000 communions. Everything went along very nicely. The priests of the house lending a helping hand to the work. After this monster mission to Catholics I gave a week’s lectures, 17th to 24th of March, to the non-Catholics. The Church was well-filled and the non-Catholics were in the majority. They came from every part of the city. I left 20 converts in the class, but a large number went elsewhere for instruction. Professor Kamberet, once a Church of England minister, gave a talk to the non-Catholics who were about to join the class.”

In the fall of 1918 he began a long series of missions in Kentucky. Father Xavier wrote: “The Bishop of Covington wired the Provincial to know if he could send a man from the missions to non-Catholics in the mountains of Kentucky. The Provincial asked me and I gladly took up the work. The Knights of Columbus offered to give me $50 for each mission and also to supply the literature. I began in Corbin.” The other towns mentioned are Jellico, Pineville, Conboro, Jenkins, White Sulphur, Williamstown, and Portland.

The last mission he gave is listed as follows: “Hillside, Illinois. I gave a mission at Hillside, Illinois, November 29 to December 6. A new place taken by the Servites of Chicago.” He then concluded his totals for 1925 and for his entire life:  missions to Catholics and non-Catholics of one week each 691; retreat days 87; retreats and missions of 3-5 days 28. He died July 28, 1926.


I will conclude these memories of our Passionist Parish Ministries with a few words from Father Edwin Ronan’s speech to the Second Missionary Congress of 1959. The entire speech can be found in The Passionist 14 (April ’59) p. 32-54, 81-83.

“We recall Xavier Sutton, who pioneered the non-Catholic mission field, doing heroic work in the back woods of Tennessee and Kentucky, when this apostolate was in its infancy, long before railway and motor chapels were thought of.”

“A Michael Klinzing, widely-known lecturer, called the apostle of New Orleans, who organized the first parish Holy Name Society in that southern city.”

“Isidore Dwyer, he of the rugged Savonarola stripe, who fearlessly uttered denunciation upon both high and low, who ignored their God; and who in later life zealously attended the Latin Americans, so dear to his heart.”

“Lesser lives there were, but nonetheless, capable and valiant and enduring missionaries. Like the well-informed and lecture-type preacher, Leo Harrigan; the enthusiastic Richard Barrett;”

Very Rev. Roger Mercurio, C. P.
Provincial Superior
March 1981

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