Summer is for many - even us clergy - a time for vacationing. And so, in June, I spent a week with my family in California, officially honoring my mother’s 90th birthday and celebrating my niece’s High School graduation. And, this month, I took a second week of vacation in New York.
My immediate family may all live in California now, but I was born and raised in New York, and the city remains “home” in that sense. Of course, when I come to New York, it’s not to my childhood neighborhood in the Bronx or to my parents’ later home in Mount Vernon (which I never actually lived in, but visited a lot). My mother sold that house in 2004, when she relocated near my sister in California. Thus the only “home” I have in New York now is the Paulist house on West 59th Street.
Having been in residence there for three years in the early 1990s and then again as associate pastor at St. Paul the Apostle Church from 2000 to 2010, it is only natural for me to feel “at home” whenever I visit there. But, even apart from my service in the parish, the Paulist house on West 59th Street is special as what every religious community has – and needs – a “motherhouse.”
Paulists often refer to St. Paul the Apostle Church as the Paulist “Mother Church” – fittingly enough for the community’s founding and the parish’s coincide, and the histories of both have long been intertwined. St. Paul the Apostle parish was not only the Paulists’ 1st foundation but for a long time the only one. Its crypt in the church’s south tower is where most of the early Paulists are buried. Hecker himself was buried in that crypt until he was moved up into the church on January 24, 1959, where his monumental tomb highlights the church’s permanently special significance for the Society he founded. And, for most Paulists (although I am one of the few exceptions), it is the special church where they were ordained to the sacred order of priesthood.
Attached to the church is the residence. As a building, the present residence (built only in the 1930s) is neither a particularly historic structure nor is it all that artistically or architecturally distinguished, although it does have its laudable charms – notably the spacious common rooms and its beautiful neo-gothic chapel (regrettably renovated some 20 or so years ago, but still attractive). What it certainly has lots of, however, is history – community history and the personal histories of so many Paulists who have lived or passed through there (and whose pictures are permanently memorialized on its 2nd-floor walls).
The Paulist residence on West 59th Street has been the site of many a Paulist gathering and continues in that role as Paulists congregate in its common rooms when in the city for ordinations and community meetings large and small. Not every Paulist has had the wonderful experience I had of serving in this parish for 10 years and living in this house for 13 years, but every Paulist is at home here in a way which is unique.
It really is what religious life language likes to call such a place – what every religious community has and needs – a true Motherhouse.