Ven. Father John Baptist Danei (John Baptist of St Michael the Archangel) was the brother and inseperable companion of St Paul of the Cross. Born in Ovada on April 4, 1695, only one year after Paul, they breathed the same family atmosphere, were constant companions, growing together in spirituality, praying together and doing penance together, almost as "one heart and one mind", although from a human perspective they did in fact have quite different personalities. While Paul was more outgoing and dynamic, John Baptist was more collected, reserved and quiet, preferring to remain in the “sidelight” of his holy brother Paul.
Nevertheless, his holiness became quite well known amongst the people, especially after the foundation of the Passionists congregation in which he helped to found together with his brother. In his humility he had a strong desire to remain hidden, and he begged the Lord to disappear to avoid veneration by the faithful. And outside of a few exceptions, God answered his prayer, both in life, and in death. For example, although he was initially buried in the Passionist church of Vetralla, his body was later hidden elsewhere for fear of sacrilegious desecration by soldiers during the French occupation of the Papal States. The author of concealment took with him to the grave the secret of the new burial location. Subsequent research, though accurate, has never yielded any results.
John Baptist completed his first studies in Ovada Cremolino, and it seems also in Campo Ligure in Genoa. While teenagers he and Paul fell into the river Tanaro, and nearly drowned before being miraculously saved by the Blessed Virgin Mary. He spent his adolescence and youth in penance and prayer, sleeping on bare boards, performing night vigils; his food was poor and frugal. He often traveled barefoot and wore rough, uncomfortable clothes, and his prayer, while kneeling, lasted for hours. His parents had to intervene against both him and Paul to reduce their excessive thirst for penance.
In 1720, his brother Paul of the Cross decided to travel alone to visit the Pope to seek the approval of the holy Congregation that he was being called to found. John the Baptist felt called to accompany him, but for some reason Paul denied him. John the Baptist replied prophetically: 'Go, but you will not stay long, nor have peace without me.’ And so it was; Paul made a fruitless journey to Rome, meeting obstacles at every turn, and he soon fell prey to profound sadness. Reflecting upon the situation, he then remembered the words of his holy brother, and he thus immediately returned home.
On November 28, 1721, together with Paul in the habit of a hermit, the two brothers make their first “retreat” together in the hermitage of Santo Stefano in Castellazzo Bormida (Alessandria). Then then travelled to Argentario in the hermitage of the Annunciation, where they remain for a few months, then they travel to Gaeta, Itri, Naples and Foggia. In 1726, they begin assisting the sick and the poor in S. Gallicano Hospital in Rome. On June 7, 1727, both brothers are together ordained priests in the Vatican Basilica by Pope Benedict XIII.
In February 1728, drawn and led by the Holy Spirit, they leave their charity work at the hospital and return to Monte Argentario in the hermitage of San Antonio. At this time they live in a rustic barn, and are deprived of everything, completely entrusted to the providence of God, and guided by the Holy Spirit. Here the holy brothers together express their ardent love for God. Concerning this time in the barn, Paul later writes “It often rained upon us, yet we were very happy."
It is Father John Baptist who directs the work to build the first house of the new religious congregation (Passionists) on Mount Argentario, near the hermitage in which he and Paul are living. Given its location on a mountain, there was no water to be found in that place. John the Baptist prayed, then began searching, and miraculously discovers a spring of water needed for the new building, Soon afterwards, St. Michael the Archangel appears to protect the new building by a few individuals have come at night to destroy it. In gratitude to the Archangel St Michael for his protection, John the Baptist takes the name “John the Baptist of St Michael the Archangel” and he dedicated the altar in the new church (monastery) to the Holy Archangel. And so through these events of the founding and establishment of the Passionist Congregation, we can see that John the Baptist was indeed a pillar of the congregation, who in his quiet humility has managed to remain quite often in the shadows.
In April, 1741, Paul finally obtained the approval of the rule and religious vows for the Passionist Congregation, which grew in number under the holy guidance of Paul and John Baptist. In 1744, John the Baptist was given the task of caring for the new retreat (monastery) in Vetralla (Viterbo), where along with being the General Consultor of the Congregation, confessor and spiritual director of his brother Paul, he was also primarily responsible for the education of young people. He stayed there for 21 years until his death.
Together with his brother Paul, Father John Baptist Danei was in great demand for giving Spiritual Exercises to Priests and Nuns, and Missions to the people. A most knowledgeable and humble man, John Baptist preached in simple “meat and potatoes” style, free from exaulted language, going straight to the heart of the matter. In the congregation, he was nicknamed Elijah for his extraordinary zeal and fervor in preaching the Word of God. In fact, the Word of God in Scripture was his food since he was young boy, and quite often the subject of his daily meditations. Concerning his knowledge of Holy Scripture his biographer writes: "He often quoted the appropriate Scriptures so well and with such accuracy that it became obvious that he knew them by heart”. He also knew very well the Fathers of the Church, and the doctrines of Councils. Always eager to avoid congratulations of any kind, he constantly strived to return to the monastery immediately upon completion of the missions, to return to his solitude and loving contemplation of God.
For us today, his penances seem incomprehensible. The rugged solitude and quiet of the monasteries at Monte Argentario and Vetralla (Viterbo) were often torn by
his scourges with which he disciplined his body. His fasts, night vigils and other mortifications were very severe. However, while with himself he was strict and uncompromising, with everyone else he was always accommodating, caring and friendly, especially with the young students and seminarians who said he was "a real affectionate father”. All the harsh austerity was reserved for himself alone, but for his subjects he was very meek and mild. The one exception was with his brother Paul, whom he was very strict in regards to penances and sacrifices.
Spiritual director and confessor of St Paul of the Cross and General Consultor of the new Passionist Congregation
Throughout his entire Priestly life he was Paul’s spiritual director and confessor, and with his intimate knowledge of his holy brother, he was Gods instrument in directing Paul to the extraordinary degree of holiness to which he was called to. Additionally, Paul elected him the General Consultor of the Congregation, making him the “spiritual Father” of the fledgling Congregation during its difficult time of its foundations and early growth, along with the later foundation of the Passionist nuns.. He was for everyone a safe and prudent adviser. Paul had a deep admiration for his brothers austere holiness and spirituality and entrusted him not only with his own spiritual growth (as spiritual director and confessor) but also as the true guide for the whole Congregation during its difficult early years. At his death, in his great loss and anguish St Paul said "I am now an orphan and alone, without a father. Who will correct me now? Who will notify me of my faults? ".
The holy gift of tears
Courageous and strong, Father John Baptist Danei did not succumb to human respect in regards to duty or sin. Once, he criticized the Priest secretary of a bishop for not wearing his vestments of a Priest. One would think that through his extreme penances, austerities and mortifications that he would be primarily a strict disciplinarian, however more often than not one would see and experience his compassionate and caring demeneanor. Giovanni Battista Danei had the gift of ecstasy and tears, weeping especially for the sins and moral evils of the clergy and the Church, for which his brother Paul says "he cried bowls of tears and the constant cry has furrowed his cheeks ... he has as two canals in his cheeks.” Those tears to express the feeling of his heart, eyewitnesses claimed that the morning his pillow was soaked with tears, made during the night. Father John Baptist had the gift of ecstasy and the singular gift of tears. He cried for the hardness of heart of stony men's lack of love of the Crucified One. He cried at the continuing difficulties of the nascent Congregation. He cried because he feels compassion and is overwhelmed by the love of a God crucified. St Paul of the Cross writes: "I see John Baptist crying constantly and sometimes I see him hiding to avoid being seen by me. But even streaked with tears his face retains the most amiable serenity of paradise.”
The holy death of Father John Baptist Danei
In July 1765 he developed a disease that appeared not to be serious, but he had the feeling that it will lead to his death. And Paul was enlightened by God during the Celebration of Mass of impending death of his brother. Paul and all the members of the Congregation assisted Father John Baptist with loving care and affection. Paul stayed especially close to him, as the two slept in adjoining rooms. However, more often than not it was Paul who was comforted by John Baptist, because Paul was heartbroken at the thought of the loss of his dear brother, inseparable companion, confessor and spiritual guide. On August 27, he received the last sacraments with fervor and he blesses the Congregation. On Friday August 30 at 10:00pm Father John the Baptist dies a holy death surrounded by the religious community. Paul immediately sings the Salve Regina joined in by all the religious accompanying him. The next morning in the celebration of Mass Paul is overwhelmed by tears at the great loss of his holy brother. It became necessary to place attendants to guard the body to keep watch over the crowd who greatly desired a relic of the holy Priest. Paul wrote a summary of his holy life and placed it on the tomb.
Immediately after the death of Father John Baptist people came forward with graces and miracles obtained through his intercession, especially through the contact with his relics objects that belonged to him. Perhaps because of his great humility, reserve, and constant desire to remain in the background, the process for canonization began only much later.
Concerning the great esteem of his brother St Paul of the Cross writes “That holy man of my brother was so spiritual, that he never needed an incentive to run along the path of the divine commandments. I am not worthy to be called his brother ". The Passionist brethren loved him and venerated him as a "living mirror of all virtues" and an authentic model of Passionist spirituality and asceticism. Between the two brothers there was perfect agreement even if the characters were not equal; ,they were in fact complementary---Outgoing and friendly Paul with the collected and reserved John the Baptist. A singular brotherhood of blood and of spirit!
Father John Baptist of St Michael the Archangel was the spiritual guide and model of the new Passionist Congregation. He has always been considered the "second foundation stone”. Trying to establish which of them was more important in the foundation of the Passionist Congregation is like trying to determine which is most important in a building—the foundations or the walls.
Concerning him we are left with the comforting testimony of Paul.- “With a holy death
corresponding to his holy life, my holy brother flew from his poor mattress to sing in paradise. Father John Baptist is a saint, and I know. " Indeed holiness is something that Paul himself knew about.
John Baptist Danei’s cause for canonization was introduced on December 10, 1930. He was declared "Venerable" on August 7, 1940 by Pope Pius XII. The feastday of Ven John Baptist Danei is August 30.
~Venerable John Baptist Danei, pray for us!