Paolo Manna was born in Avellino in central Italy in 1872. After primary and technical education in Avellino and in Naples he went to Rome for higher studies. While studying philosophy at the Gregorian University he followed the call of the Lord and entered the Seminary of the Institute for Foreign Missions in Milan. In 1894 he was ordained a priest in the cathedral of Milan.
In 1895 he set off for the mission of Toungoo in Eastern Burma, where he worked until 1907, when illness forced him to come back to Italy for good.
For the next forty years he dedicated all his energy to fostering support for the missions. In 1909 he became the director of Le Missioni Cattoliche. In 1914 he launched Propaganda Missionaria – a popular newspaper; in1916 he founded the Missionary Union of the Clergy; and in 1919 he started Italia Missionaria for young people.
In 1924 was elected Superior General of the Institute of Foreign Missions of Milan. In 1926, at the instigation of Pope Pius XI, the Institute united with the Missionary Seminary of Rome to form the Pontifical Institute for the Foreign Missions (P.I.M.E.).
The Pontifical Institute General Assembly of 1934 gave him a mandate to establish the Society of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate. He played a primary role in the foundation of this institute in 1936. From 1937 to 1941 Fr Manna was in charge of the International Secretariat for the Missionary Union of the Clergy.
Fr Manna wrote a number of books and booklets. His proposals for missionary work anticipated developments at the Second Vatican Council. But Fr Manna’s greatest legacy is the example he left behind: he was driven by an overwhelming passion for the missions that sickness, suffering and setbacks could never diminish. His first biographer called him “A burning soul”. Until his death his motto was: “All the Church for all the World”!
Fr Paolo Manna died in Naples on 15 September 1952. His remains were laid to rest at Ducenta, “his seminary”. In 1990 Pope John Paul II visited his tomb, and in 2001 Paolo Manna was beatified