Establishment of the Order 
It was founded in 1530 by three Italian noblemen: St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria (S. Antonio Maria Zaccaria), Venerable Barthalomew Ferrari (Bartolomeo Ferrari), and Venerable James Morigia (Giacomo Antonio Morigia), and approved by Pope Clement VII in the brief Vota per quae vos in 1533. Later approvals gave it the status of an order, but it is still normally referred to as a congregation. Both the date and the vocation place it among the orders associated with the Counter-Reformation.
The popular name Barnabites came naturally to the Congregation through its association with the church of St. Barnabas in Milan, which came into its possession within the earliest years of the foundation of the institute, which was at first peculiarly Milanese. St. Charles Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan, presided, in 1579, as Cardinal Protector, over the commission which determined once for all the constitution of the order, and the general chapters were regularly held at Milan until the reign of Pope Alexander VII (1655–67), who ordered them to convene in Rome. Pope Innocent XI (1676–89), however, finally decreed that the general chapters of the Barnabites should assemble in Rome and Milan alternately.
These assemblies of the provincials were held every three years for the election of a new general, whose term of office was limited to that period, only one re-election being allowed to each incumbent of the office. The members of the order make, in addition to the three regular vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, a vow never to strive for any office or position of dignity, or to accept such otherwise than under a command of the Holy See.
The scope of their special vocation, besides preaching in general, catechizing, hearing confessions, giving missions, ministrations in hospitals and prisons, and the education of youth, includes also a particular devotion to the thorough study and exposition of St. Paul's Epistles. Their habit is the black soutane (tunica talaris) which formed the usual garb of Milanese secular priests in the time of St. Charles Borromeo. St Charles was not himself a member, but is venerated by the Barnabites as a secondary patron of their order.
The present constitution is an updated version dated 1983, which takes into account the changes from the Second Vatican Council. There is a female branch of uncloistered nuns, the Angelic Sisters of St. Paul and a lay congregation for married people, the Laity of St. Paul, originally called the Married of St. Paul and sometimes referred to in North America as the Oblates of St. Paul.
Character of the Order 
As indicated by the official name, their work is inspired by St Paul the Apostle. In addition to activities such as the education of youth, catechizing, giving missions and ministries in prisons and hospitals, the members are required to study St. Paul's Epistles. The garb worn by members is the black soutane or cassock (tunica talaris) as worn by Milanese priests in the 16th century.
The first missions undertaken by the order were in Italy, France, Savoy, Austria and Bohemia. In the 18th century they started missions in China and Brazil. Today, they have a formal presence in sixteen countries. Among these are Afghanistan, where they have run the Afghan Catholic Mission since 1933, interrupted only while the Taliban regime was in power.
Barnabite Saints 
Three Barnabites are counted among the canonized saints: Saint Anthony Maria Zaccaria, Saint Alexander Sauli and Saint Francis Bianchi, while some others are being investigated for possible canonization, including Venerable Karl Schilling, the only post-reformation Norwegian to be officially considered for sainthood, and the Italian physician and priest Vittorio De Marino.
John Bellarini, who was the visitor of the order and twice held to office of Assistant general, was also a noted theologian who wrote a number of works including an influential commentary on the Council of Trent.