1. Religion & Spirituality
Scott P. Richert

Saint Paul of the Cross and the Conversion of England

By October 20, 2009

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As I have discussed before ("Pope Benedict: A Pontiff With a Plan"), Pope Benedict XVI is very sensitive to the message that certain dates send. Summorum Pontificum, for instance, was signed on June 29, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, when the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch sends representatives to Rome each year to take part in the celebration of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (and sometimes comes himself). The Orthodox have long been concerned about the decline of the liturgy in the Western Church, and the revival of the Traditional Latin Mass was seen as a major step in the right direction.

So is there any significance in the date of today's announcement that Pope Benedict has signed an Apostolic Constitution which will allow entire Anglican communities to reenter the Catholic Church en masse? I think so.

October 20 is the feast day of Saint Paul of the Cross (1694-1775), the founder of the Passionists. Though Saint Paul spent his life in Italy, the Catholic Encyclopedia notes that "For fifty years he prayed for the conversion of England, and left the devotion as a legacy to his [spiritual] sons." Almost 65 years after his death, the Passionists were first introduced into England, and the Catholic Encyclopedia declares that "They came in the spirit of Apostles without gold or silver, without scrip or staff or shoes or two coats," yet they "soon revived without commotion several Catholic customs and practices which had died out since the Reformation. They were the first to adopt strict community life, to wear their habit in public, to give missions and retreats to the people, and to hold public religious processions."

Father Pius Devine, in an 1882 manuscript cited by the Catholic Encyclopedia, remarks that the Passionist in England "gloried in the disgrace of the Cross, were laughed at by Protestants, warned by timid Catholics, but encouraged always by Cardinal Wiseman. Their courage became infectious, so that in a short time almost every order now in England followed their example."

All of this may simply be a coincidence. But considering Pope Benedict's sensitivity to the symbolism of dates, I don't think so. In any case, on this historic day, we can join Saint Paul of the Cross in praying for the conversion of England.

N.B.: You may find missals and Catholic calendars that show the feast of Saint Paul of the Cross on October 18 (the date of his death) or October 19 (to which it was later transferred). It has been transferred again, however, and is currently celebrated on October 20.

October 20, 2009 at 9:28 pm
(1) Brian says:

Good observations and thanks for the article!

October 21, 2009 at 7:42 am
(2) Stephanie Mann says:

Remember it was a Passionist priest, Blessed Dominic Barberi, who received Venerable John Henry Newman into the Catholic Church in 1845!

October 21, 2009 at 2:36 pm
(3) Apollo F. Salle says:

12 years before Lourdes (in 1846), Our Lady appeared at the small French village of La Salette to 2 cowherds Melanie Mathieu and Maximin Giraud. To each, she gave a secret, now known as the famous “Secret of Melanie” and “Secret of Maximin”. Now one of the prophecies contained in the alleged “Secret of Maximin” reportedly said that “a Protestant country in the north will return to the Catholic fold.” All this time, for some reason, I was suspecting that Our Lady was referring to Great Britain. Upon reading this news of Pope Benedict XVI agreeing to set up this historic Apostolic Constitution, the first thing that came to my mind was that are we perhaps seeing the beginnings of the fulfillment of this prophecy? Do take note that, aside from this historic move by the Holy See, there had been many other indications this past decade that Britain seems to be on its way of rebuilding the bridge to Rome that was demolished by Henry VIII, such as an-ever increasing individual conversions to Catholicism of public figures from the British press, government, and even the nobility (not to mention that visit of Prince Philip to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham a couple or so days ago, the first such visit to that famous medieval Marian shrine by a member of the British royal family since the Reformation!). Oh, I can just hear Queen Mary saying “Hah!” to her father and her sister!

October 21, 2009 at 3:00 pm
(4) Dan Guenzel says:

You mean the re-conversion of England, of course. England was a Catholic country far longer than it was a protestant one.

It was that terrible breakup of Christendom begun in England about which Hilaire Belloc has written so often and so brilliantly. It took the villains nearly 120 years to finally stamp out the Faith in Britain.

England was Catholic for nearly a thousand years and it is my fervent hope that what has just happened in Rome will be the beginning of the English people finding again what they lost five hundred years ago.

October 21, 2009 at 5:29 pm
(5) mary says:


October 21, 2009 at 10:51 pm
(6) Glenn Dallaire says:

Dear Mr. Richert,
Having studied the writings of St Paul of the Cross I agree completely with you assessment as to the timing of Pope Benedict’s announcement.
St Paul of the Cross often spoke and wrote about the conversion of England and he would often exhort his confreres too pray for this intention. There is a part in his personal journal where he writes about this. And, only God knows how many sacrifices that he perhaps made also for this same intention.

With this in mind, I wholeheartidly agree that Pope Benedict intentionally chose the date of the memorial of the death of St Paul of the Cross with the express intention of invoking St Paul of the Cross’ patronage over the hopeful coming home of many of the Anglican faithful.

Glenn Dallaire
-Webmaster of the St Paul of the Cross website: http://www.saintpaulofthecross.com and also the St Gemma Galgani website http://www.stgemmagalgani.com

October 22, 2009 at 5:07 am
(7) leprechaun says:

I too hope the Anglicans will return to the fold. However, this must be through being received into the Traditional Roman Catholic Church (not the Conciliar Church else they will not notice the difference) and most definitely not by some legal fudge whereby they remain Anglicans but delude themselves by thinking they have returned to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

July 12, 2010 at 3:32 pm
(8) Anglican says:

Why would I want to return to Rome when I was never part of the Roman Catholic branch of the one Church(sometimes referred to as the “ancient, undivided Church”) that Christ Jesus founded
England was Christian and Catholic long before it was Roman Catholic.
Christianity came to England (The British Isles) the same way it came to Rome. Missionaries from the East (The Holy Land) merchants and soldiers brought the Faith to England long before the one, catholic, and apostolic Church was divided into Orthodox, Roman, and Anglican.
There is no particular order there although in point of geography and time the original Christians were in the East in the Holy Land.
Most of the churches (denominations) we have now come down or out of those 3 major divisions of the ancient, undivided Church of Christ Jesus.
There is still only once Church founded by Christ Jesus, and it is neither Roman nor Orthodox nor Anglican.
God bless us everyone.

PS Hentry VIII did not found the Church of England. It’s probably more truthful to say that Joseph of Arimathea did.

October 26, 2011 at 7:10 am
(9) Len says:

Dear Anglican, As Newman said “To be deep in history, is to cease to be Protestant”.
This “three-branch-theory” is an after-the-fact theory, a retrojection to try to gloss over the painful historical fact of the Protestant Reformation. But it is a graft onto thin air, and, many who hold it abandon it for Catholicism as soon as they probe it. (See coming Home Network where various ex-Protestant academics and Ministers deal with this theory)
(1)The three-branch theory is not accepted at all by two of the “branches”! (Orthodox or Catholic) and barely by the third as it is only important to a small section of Anglicans!
(2)Moreover it was unknown to the Joseph of Aramathea and the early Celtic Christians you cite. (Primitive communications and the Dark Age’s destruction of the secular Roman Empire caused Christians to sometimes have to subsist in isolation. But these contacts were repaired at the earliest opportunities.)
(3)But most importantly it was unknown to Christ.
His prayer for Unity was “that they all may be one….so the world will believe” (John 17:21) This is a VISIBLE unity that is to impress the world in its oneness. The three-branch-fudge doesn’t do it.
Such a concrete unity is difficult to conceive without a focus, and Christ provided that in the Petrine Ministry (Matt 16:18-19) (Luke 22:32).
Christ did not write a book; neither does he use his carpentry skills to invent the printing press to give the world a book….he renames Simon “Rock” and founds one, single church, upon this rock.
The 3-branch theory looks like a device for those Anglicans, who suspect they ought to be Catholic but do not want to move. And, given the potential disruption, this is not only understandable, it is, psychologically-speaking, an inevitable half-way-house refuge.

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