Wednesday, December 21, 2011

December 22, 1888

On December 22, 1888, Servant of God Isaac Thomas Hecker, founder of the Paulist Fathers, died at the Paulist community residence attached to St. Paul the Apostle parish in New York City. Thirty years earlier, together with collaborators, Fr. Augustine Hewitt, Fr. George Deshon, and Fr. Francis Baker, (like him all American-born Protestants who had converted to Roman Catholicism), Fr. Hecker had established the Paulist Fathers in order more effectively to share the rich faith and full experience of life in the Roman Catholic with the dynamic culture of 19th-century American society. From their home parish in New York, the Paulists have since spread out across the country, serving at parishes and universities, preaching missions and giving lectures, and aspiring to reach an ever wider audience through the Paulist Press and other media.

Pretiosa in conspectu Domini mors sanctorum eius (“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his holy ones” Psalm 116:15). One of the earliest written accounts of Fr. Hecker’s death was that of his devoted disciple, Paulist Fr. Walter Elliott (The Life of Father Hecker, 1891):

“Some days before he died he seemed to realize that the long struggle was nearly over … and his mind appeared to have suddenly grown peaceful. The Scriptures as well as other books were read to him, as usual, up to the very evening before he died. On the night of the 20th of December, two days after his sixty-ninth birthday, the last sacraments were administered, Father Hecker receiving them without visible emotion but in full consciousness. During the following day he was quiet and apparently free from acute pain, the benumbed body refusing to suffer more; but the mind calm and attentive. When the morning of the 22nd came all could see that his time was near at hand. In the middle of the forenoon the members of the community were gathered at the bedside, the prayers for the dying were read and the indulgence was given. As this was over the doctor arrived, and Father Hecker, who had gradually lost advertence to all around him, was roused by him into full consciousness, and gave the community his blessing, feebly raising his hand to make the sign of the cross and uttering the words in a light whisper. Then he sank away into unconsciousness and in an hour ceased to breathe.

“And so Father Hecker died. Our beloved teacher and father, so blameless and brave, so gentle and daring, so full of God and of humanity, entered into his eternal beatitude. …

“The life of Father Hecker is a strong invitation to the men of these times to become followers of God the Holy Ghost, to fit their souls by prayer and penance in union with Christ and his Church, for the consecration of liberty and intelligence to the elevation of the human race to union with God.”

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