St Paul of the Cross was born on 3 January 1694 in Ovada, a town situated near Genoa in northern Italy. At the age of 19 Paul was inspired by Saint Frances de Sales and the priests of the Capuchin Order to live an evangelical life. Paul travelled throughout Italy on preaching missions on the passion of Jesus and spent a lot of time converting sinners. He often travelled barefoot, even in harsh weather conditions, as one of his many sacrifices and penances. Due to his heroic efforts in doing good God was with him in a big way. He attracted many crowds and followers who were inspired to repent and turn to God.
Paul spent many hours of adoration before Jesus crucified and it became his lifelong conviction that God is most easily found in the Passion of Christ. In 1737 Paul created his first monastic community which he called “the poor of Jesus”. This later became known as the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ, or the Passionists. A few years later Paul also formed the congregation of Passionist Nuns.
He died on 18 October 1775. By the time of his death, the congregation founded by Saint Paul of the Cross had one hundred and eighty fathers and brothers, living in twelve Retreats, mostly in the Papal States. There was also a monastery of contemplative sisters in Corneto (today known as Tarquinia), founded by Paul a few years before his death to promote the memory of the Passion of Jesus by their life of prayer and penance.
Gemma’s friendship with St Paul of the Cross:
As of St Paul of the Cross Gemma’s mission was to save and covert sinners and be devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She knew she was loved By Jesus and she Loved Him. Nothing else mattered apart from pleasing God enabling Gemma to face every situation with calm and equal eyes. She was in the arms of God, what did she have to fear?
Gemma did not limit herself to prayer in converting sinners. She practiced penance and indescribable mortifications for them to experience in herself all the pains which Jesus suffered during His passion. In some circumstances Gemma would even pray for those who ill wished and meant her harm. She was very much like Her Divine spouse who died on the cross to save not only His friends but His enemies as well.
Some of Gemma’s persecutors , whom she was trying to save, would display such abusive and offensive behaviour towards her that St Paul of the Cross would appear to support and console her.