Monasteries of Great Britain and Ireland – Paulist Fathers

Article

Active. Under No Vows. Founded 1868.

The Paulist Fathers were founded by Father Isaac Thomas Hecker, one of the two most remarkable converts to Catholicism the New World has yet produced, the other being, of course, Dr. Brownson, who has sometimes been called the Newman of America.

Father Hecker was born in New York in 1819; his father was by birth a Lutheran; his mother, a woman of great energy and strong character, a devout Methodist. The future founder of a large Religious Order destined to play a large part in the conversion of the New World began life as a baker in his brother’s bakehouse, but he had always a secret craving for learning. In 1834 he first met Dr. Brownson, who, after his mother, exercised the strongest influence on him; and eventually Father Hecker was received into the Catholic Church, a few months after Dr. Brown- son.

Up to this time he held very strong political views, advocating socialistic ideas, and at the suggestion of Brownson he went to Brook Farm, where a community had been started by George Ripley based on communistic principles, and here Isaac Hecker resided for some time – about a year – studying philosophy, French, and music, and acting as baker to the community.

The Brook Farmers, who were of no particular creed, pretended to take Our Lord as their model, much in the same way that certain Socialists of the present day affect to follow the example of Saint Francis; but their attempt to right the wrongs of the world by natural means, based on mere humanitarianism and outside the Catholic Church, was, like all such Utopian schemes, foredoomed to failure.

Father Hecker soon saw its futility, and, being dissatisfied, or rather unsatisfied, with it, left Brook Farm to join another similar community at a place called Fruitlands, founded by Brownson Alcott; but this, too, failed to satisfy his soul, which was being led slowly but surely to the “home of the saints,” and, as he truly said of himself, it is clear that if God had not led him into the Catholic Church he “would have been one of the worst cranks in the world.”

He was a bora mystic, and after going the round of all the philosophies, and searching among all the sects for a religion to satisfy him, Anglicanism being the last field of his inquiry, at last, on August i, 1844, he was baptized by Bishop McCloskey, afterwards the first American Cardinal, and made his confession the following day.

He then entered the Redemptorist Order, and served his novitiate at Saint Trond in Belgium. After his profession he was sent to England, and for a year after his ordination was at the Redemptorist monastery at Clapham. He said of himself that “had he lived in Europe he would not have become a priest, but he felt the Church in America needed all the help for the priesthood that her Catholic children could give her.”

In 1851 Father Hecker was sent to the Redemptorist house at New York, where he worked hard till 1857, when, a misunderstanding having arisen between the Redemptorists at Rome and those at New York about the founding of a new house in New York City, he was sent to Rome to explain matters to the General of the Order, who resided there. To Father Hecker’s amazement, the General called a council and expelled him from the Order for leaving America without his permission. He eventually succeeded in getting some of the Cardinals to take up his case, and he laid the whole matter before the Pope, Pius IX, who counselled the American Redemptorists to separate themselves from the Italian Redemptorists, and found a new Order, with Constitutions of their own, which he commanded Father Hecker to draw up, suitable to the special needs of America. Father Hecker always retained a great affection for the Redemptorists.

By the advice of Pius IX, as well as by the desire of Isaac Hecker’s heart, the aim and object of the new Congregation was, and is, the conversion of America.

The Paulist Fathers are under no vows, but their holy founder’s idea was that a true Paulist should be ever ready to take the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience at any moment. Their own personal sanctification is to be their first aim, and, after that, the conversion of America, for which they labour most zealously.

Individuality is the most prominent feature in the life of a Paulist; it was most strongly marked in their founder, so we are not surprised to find it characterizes his sons.

The most celebrated book of Father Hecker is “Questions of the Soul”; it shows how the cravings of man for union with God can be satisfied.

The Paulists are one of the most zealous Congregations in America; the mother-house is at New York.

The habit is that of the secular clergy.

MLA Citation

  • Francesca M Steele. “Paulist Fathers”. Monasteries of Great Britain and Ireland, 1903. CatholicSaints.Info. 2 December 2018. Web. 19 December 2018. <>