St. Paul of the Cross, Founder of the Passionists congregation, was born in Ovada, in Northern Italy, on January 3rd, 1694. While still a young man he was inspired by God to a life of prayer, especially to a grateful and compassionate remembrance of the sufferings and death of His Son, Jesus.
In a vision, Paul saw our Blessed Mother, clothed in what is now known as the Passionist habit, wearing over her heart the distinctive badge or "sign" of the Passionist. She told him he was to found a new religious community of men who were to devote their efforts to promoting in the hearts of the faithful remembrance of the Passion and death of her Son.
Around 1720, St. Paul of the Cross began to gather companions to live together and to witness to the people the gospel of the suffering of Christ. He wished his followers to cultivate a profound spirit of prayer, penance and solitude, in order to attain intimate union with God, be imbued with love for Christ and Him Crucified, become witness to Christ's redemptive love.
Shortly after the death of St. Paul on October 18th, 1775, his newly found Congregation began to spread. From Italy it reached Spain, France, Beligium, then over into Engalnd and Ireland.
In 1852 the first Passionists, three priests and one laybrother, led by Fr. Anthony Calandri came from Italy to America, at the invitation of Bishop Michael O'Connor of Pittsburgh, Pa. Their area of apostolate grew and as the country began to expand westward, the order recognized that the city of Chicago held great promise in their continued efforts for the spread of the Catholic faith. Chicago was a central location witha prime railroad system and a good many of the people settling in the area were Catholic.
In 1903 Archbishop Quigley approved the establishment of the Passionists Monastery in Norwood Park. The Burnham estate site was ideal; the price was right and it was in close proximity to the vast number of people, yet just far enough removed from the hustle and bustle of the city to maintain the peace and solitude of a monastic life. Before the monastary was built the Passionists divided the United States into an Eastern Province (St. Paul of the Cross Province) and the Western Province, the Province of the Holy Cross with it's headquarters here on Harlem Ave.
The history of the Passionists in Chicago is included to a great degree in the history of Immaculate Conception Parish. As needs dictated over the years, changes were made to the Monastery to make it more homelike according to the American lifestyle and begining in 1971 the entire third floor was rearranged to accomodate the Provincial Office.
In it's earlier years, one of the primary functions of the monastery was to house the seminarians and theologians who were preparing to become Passionist Missionaries. However, for economic reasons and better faculty accomodations, the mosatary ceased functioning as a seminary on 1966-67. The seminarians now reside at the Cathoic Theological Union on Cornell Avenue in Hyde Park on the South Side of Chicago.
Another significant change in the life of the Passionists was the new Rule of Life adopted in 1969 as an experiment and then revived and formally approved by Pope John Paul II in 1983. The new constitution characterizes the Passionists life as apostolic, with personal prayer and contemplation remaining the foundation stones. The renovation of the original monastic chapel completed in 1986 aims to make it more conducive to prayer and meditation and to highlight the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the Community.