Saturday, December 22, 2018

130 Years Ago

Today marks the anniversary of the deaths of two monumental figures in the history of American Catholicism. In Chicago on this date in 1917, died Italian-born, but naturalized American citizen, Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants. (In the pre-conciliar calendar, today was celebrated in the United States as her feast day, which has since been inexplicably moved to November 13.)

Also, Servant of God Isaac Hecker, the founder of the Paulist Fathers (and the bicentennial of whose birth we are commemorating this coming year), died 130 years ago today, December 22, 1888. 

Hecker's last years were marked by illness. Nonetheless, he continued writing for the Paulist magazine, The Catholic World, and summarized his mature thought in his final book, The Church and the Age, published in 1887. His brother George died in February 1888, and as the year drew to a close Isaac too drew nearer to his end. At his funeral on December 26, a eulogy was given by the Provincial of the Jesuits' New York-Maryland Province, Thomas Campbell, SJ, who had grown up in the parish and who then recounted the now famous story of Hecker's deathbed.

As the community gathered at his bedside, Hecker's close colleague and soon-to-be successor asked, "Shall I bless them for you, Father?" According to Campbell's account, Hecker "aroused himself from the depth of pain and exhaustion, and his ashen lips which death was sealing pronounced the singular words: 'No, I will give it in the shadow of death.' His feeble hands were raised, and like a soldier dying on the field of battle, he reconsecrated his followers in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost for the struggle in which they had chosen him as Leader."

(Photo: Bicentennial Hecker Quilt, created by the Immaculate Conception Women's Quilting Group, the "ICBees," to hang in Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN.)

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