In 2006, the Paulist Fathers General Assembly resolved to promote the canonization cause of Paulist Founder, Fr. Isaac Thomas Hecker (1819-1888). In January 2008, the Archbishop of New York, Edward Cardinal Egan, formally opened the process for Hecker’s cause. During that ceremony at the Paulist “Mother Church” in New York City, the parish Hecker began and the church where he lies buried, I formally assumed the office of Vice-Postulator, appointed to assist the Postulator of the Cause in spreading knowledge about Hecker and promoting popular devotion to him. Now, four years later, I find myself on this 12th Day of Christmas, about to fly to Rome to participate in a program sponsored by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome – essentially a course on the ecclesiastical process of canonization (and taught in Italian!!!) - that will begin on Monday, January 9, and will continue through mid-March. While in Rome I will be living with the local Paulist community near the Paulist Church of Santa Susanna on the Via Venti Settembre, near the Quirinale Palace.
By 1921, the Paulists Fathers were ready to establish a formal residence in Rome to house the community’s official representative to the Holy See – something especially desirable for a specifically American community which otherwise lacks the international dimension which world-wide religious orders easily have. As an American community, the Paullists were also interested in acquiring a church to minister to the growing American population in Rome. Near the American Embassy, they found Santa Susanna – an ancient Roman parish church, which in recent centuries had been attached to a convent of Cistercian nuns and was rarely open to the public. President Warren Harding interceded with the papal Apostolic Delegate, and Pope Benedict XV soon authorized the Paulists to use Santa Susanna as a national church for American Catholics in Rome. The first Sunday Mass at Santa Susanna for the American community was celebrated almost 90 years ago on February 26, 1922. With a brief interruption during World War II, the Paulists have been in Rome at Santa Susanna since then.
I am certainly looking forward to living at Santa Susanna and to being in Rome, the center of the Church (however apprehensive I honestly am at the moment about passing this course – and especially about having to learn in a foreign language!) It may not be exactly how I personally would have chosen to spend the next couple of months, but I am reasonably confident that it will work out well for me, for the community, and of course for Hecker’s Cause, which I hope to be able to advance as a result of this experience.
So, it’s off to the airport in a few hours and a whole new adventure in the Eternal City!