Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle , otherwise known as the PAULIST FATHERS, a community of priests for giving missions and doing other Apostolic works, especially for making converts to the Catholic Faith. It was founded, in Rome and in New York, in 1858, by Father Isaac Thomas Hecker, with whom were associated Augustine F. Hewit, George Deshon, Francis A. Baker, and Clarence A. Walworth. All of these had been members of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, and owing to certain misunderstandings had been suspected of disloyalty to their order and accused of disobedience.
In order to set matters right and to explain their case to the superior general, Father Hecker went to Rome, and on August 29, 1857, three days after his arrival, was expelled from the Redemptorists. This action was appealed to the Holy See and was not approved. Father Hecker and the above named priests were then at their own request dispensed from their vows, and proceeded to form the new community. Hecker received letters from Propaganda, strongly recommending him and his associates to the bishops of the United States. This is the official origin of the Paulists.
But long before this, however, the Holy Spirit gave Father Hecker distinct and unmistakable intimations—to use his own words—that he was “set apart to undertake in some leading and conspicuous way the conversion of this country”. He adds that he “made an explicit statement of these supernatural visitations to various persons, singly and in common, always under compulsion of obedience or necessity”. These advisers included Cardinal Barnabo, the Prefect of Propaganda at this time, and several of the most approved directors of souls in Rome. They unanimously decided that he acted wisely in following this interior supernatural guidance.
During the summer of 1858 a practical beginning of their apostolate was made by the Pouliot, in New York, to which diocese they were made hearty welcome by Archbishop John Hughes. He gave them a parish in what was then a suburb and is now the heart of the city. As they had given missions as Redemptorists in all parts of the country, they were well and favorably known to the bishops and clergy and were very popular with the people. They were all men of ability, quite above the ordinary intellectual standard, powerful preachers, and of mature spirituality. Father Hecker especially was known as a remarkable man, a leader in Catholic thought, of profoundly interior spirit of prayer, joined to such a zeal for souls as characterizes only the saints. They were all Americans and all converts, and under their founder’s inspiration, they soon developed their high gifts of preaching, of writing, and of the guidance of souls. To provide a house and church the new community, having but a handful of parishioners, appealed to their friends everywhere for financial help. The response was generous, and they built in West 59th Street, a convent and church combined, which in later years, when the present church was erected, was used wholly for their dwelling. This is the motherhouse. In course of time foundations were made in San Francisco and Berkeley, California; Chicago, Illinois; Winchester, Tennessee; and Austin, Texas. The novitiate and house of studies is in Washington, D.C., the scholastic training being affiliated to the courses of the Catholic University.
A program of rule was drawn up at the time of the founding of the community, in 1858, and approved by Archbishop Hughes. This served all needful purposes for twenty years, when it was much enlarged. It is still in process of experiment before being presented to the Holy See for canonical approbation. Its spiritual features are substantially the same routine of devout exercises, in private and in common, observed by the original fathers while Redemptorists. Although the Paulists do not make vows of religion, they undertake to observe the evangelical counsels as fervently as if canonically bound to do so. This is expressed in the formula of profession as a “whole-hearted determination to obey the rules, to aspire after Christian and religious perfection, to devote oneself energetically to the labors of the Apostolic ministry, and to persevere in the same vocation to the end of life”. The training of the members is provided for in the exercises of the novitiate and house of studies. Permanency in the community is secured by this original training, and the act of profession witnesses to a well matured purpose of striving after perfection and to a sincere love of community life. To this bond of union is joined that of zeal for souls actuating the members of the institute individually and in common. Father Hecker’s estimate of the fundamental principle of the Paulist life is as follows: “The desire for personal perfection is the foundation stone of a religious community; when this fails, it crumbles to pieces.” And again: “The main purpose of each Paulist must be the attainment of personal perfection by the practice of those virtues without which it cannot be secured—interior fidelity to grace, prayer, detachment and the like.”
In the external order, the Paulist vocation is primarily, as was the original vocation of Father Hecker, the conversion of non-Catholics. It embraces all branches of the Catholic apostolate, lecturing and preaching, printing and distribution of missionary literature, and private conference with earnest inquirers. The spread of Catholicism holds the first place both in their prayers and in their active life; it outranks in importance all other external labors. It is on this account that Paulists are most commonly known both in and out of the Church as convert makers. Missions for non-Catholics are systematically given. being very often joined to Catholic missions, though not seldom given separately. The effects of this apostolate have justified Father Hecker’s lifelong contention that America is a ripe field for the zeal of Catholic missionaries. Many thousands of converts have been made, some immediately, more after prolonged examination of the claims of the Church, and multitudes of half-hearted and indifferent Catholics have been restored to the practice of their religion, a result which so invariably follows these lectures as to give them a very high place in the work of “stopping the leaks”.
In the year 1894, the Paulists introduced missions to non-Catholics among the diocesan clergy, beginning with the Diocese of Cleveland. This work has now been extended into over twenty-five American dioceses, and also into England and Australia. The number of secular priests actively engaged in these diocesan apostolates is very considerable. For the training, and in many cases for the support, of these bands of convert-makers, members of the Paulist community brought about the establishment of the Catholic Missionary Union, a corporation whose board of directors is controlled by members of the hierarchy. Under its direction, but administered wholly by Paulists, the Apostolic Mission House was opened on the Catholic University grounds, Washington, D.C., in 1903, and from its classes most of the diocesan missionaries have been recruited. The present sovereign pontiff wrote to Cardinal Gibbons a letter of approval of this institution in September, 1908.
With the same end in view the Paulists have vigorously engaged in the apostolate of the press. The first fathers printed and circulated their sermons in the earliest years of the community, and in 1865 Father Hecker started the “Catholic World Magazine”, then the only Catholic monthly in the country; and this was immediately followed by an organized propaganda of missionary books, pamphlets, and tracts, most of which were either distributed to Protestants gratis or disposed of at nominal prices—a work highly praised by the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore, and still energetically carried on. The Paulist Fathers also consider it part of their vocation to influence the secular press in the interests of Catholic truth. The preaching of missions to Catholics also has engaged much of the zeal of the Paulists.
No innovation on traditional Catholic methods, least of all on the Catholic spirit, has ever been observed in their public utterances or ministrations, though the personal tone and character of the Paulists has imparted to their discourses and writings a peculiar zest. Parish work has occupied many members of the institute, characterized by special care in preparing and preaching sermons, the training of children, the relief of the poor, the beauty and dignity of ceremonial, and the proper rendering of the official music of the Church. The making of converts is a prominent feature of their parish activities. Constant endeavors are made to attract non-Catholics to the sermons and the public services of the Church, as well as to private conference, and converts are always under instruction.
The number of Paulists is now 67, of those not yet ordained, 23. The increase, though not numerically great, has been continuous, the larger number of the novices being attracted by the non-Catholic missions.