The Society of Missionary Priests of St. Paul the Apostle (CSP, Official Catholic Directory #1030), popularly known as the Paulist Fathers or the Paulists, is a canonically approved clerical society of apostolic life. Members are men, priests or those preparing for ordination to the priesthood, committed by promise to the apostolic mission of the community and to an evangelical life in common in support of that mission and for their own ongoing conversion as disciples. The mission of the Paulists to North America is focused on sharing Catholic faith and life with those outside of or not active in the Catholic community and engaging in a Catholic witness to and dialogue with modern society.
Origin. The Paulists were founded in New York City in 1858 by Reverend Isaac Thomas hecker, in association with Augustine F. hewitt, George deshon, Francis baker, and, shortly thereafter, Clarence walworth. All were priest converts to Catholicism in the antebellum period of social reform and religious revival in the United States. These men were drawn to the Catholic Church in the process of their own religious quests. They had then joined the redemptorists at a time when that congregation in the United States was generally regarded as a German group dedicated to the care of German immigrants.
Hecker and his companions believed that their mission work would prosper and American vocations would increase if the congregation established an American house and addressed itself to the wider American public. Father Hecker went to Rome to plead the cause of such a new foundation before the Redemptorist major general. Misunderstanding and conflict over his intentions and his right to make the journey led to Hecker's expulsion from the Redemptorists. He appealed to the Holy See and, with the support of Cardinal Alessandro Barnabo, secured a decision from Pius IX granting the release of Hecker and his confreres from their Redemptorist vows, with the suggestion that they form a new American missionary community. Hecker himself became convinced that a new religious community was needed to help supply the wants of the Church in the United States and to carry the message of Catholicism to Americans and their society. He and his companions drew up a Programme of Rule that was approved by Archbishop John Hughes of New York. On July 10, 1858, the Paulists were founded, the first religious community of men begun in the United States. In place of vows of religion, they took solemn promises (which they regarded as binding as vows), committing themselves to the evangelical counsels and life in community. Stressing the personal guidance of the Holy Spirit, apostolic flexibility, and individual initiative, Hecker believed that in all their apostolic works the Paulists should be faithful to their distinctive mission, the conversion of America.
Early Development. In 1868, a general chapter greatly expanded and enlarged the Programme of Rule, which then became the official constitutions. Revised by succeeding chapters, these constitutions were submitted in 1925 and received final approval from the Holy See in 1940. They provided for regular General Chapters and a governing structure consisting of a Superior General with four Consultors. Father Hecker was elected as the first Superior General, holding office until his death in 1888. Father Hewitt succeeded him as Superior General, and then Father Deshon.
With the founding of the Paulists in 1858, the motherhouse of the community was established in New York City. This was also the site for the Paulist studentate until the opening of The catholic university of america in Washington, D.C., when the Paulists became the first religious community to establish a house on campus (1889). In 1914, they opened St. Paul's College, adjoining the campus. A separate novitiate was begun in 1923.
In conjunction with their motherhouse, the Paulists were entrusted with the establishment and pastoral care of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in New York. Parish missions across the United States and Canada, aimed not only at reviving the active practice of the faith by Catholics but also drawing others to the Catholic faith, were a central work of the community's apostolate. Hecker started the Catholic World in 1865 to bring the best of Catholic theological and literary work to the attention of educated American Catholics in order to better equip them for their role in the Catholic mission in America. In 1866, he began the Catholic Publication Society, the forerunner of the Paulist Press (1916), especially noted for widespread dissemination of pamphlets and other works of an educational and apologetic nature, aimed both at Catholics and other inquirers. The Apostolic Mission House (1902) was established in Washington, D.C., to provide training for diocesan clergy in missions to Catholics and non-Catholics. A parish and base for parish missions was taken on in San Francisco (1894).
Catholic and American. Father Hecker had brought to the foundation of the Paulists a deep appreciation for positive values in the spirit and institutions of the United States, along with a trenchant critique of the deficiencies of American society, defects which he believed could only be remedied by Christ's truth and grace embodied in Catholicism. The tension inherent in being both Catholic and American was intensified by the condemnation of americanism (1898), based in part on European interpretations of Hecker and related controversies in both Europe and America. The Paulists (along with Cardinal Gibbons and others) were strong in affirmation of their Catholic loyalty and denied that the condemned tendencies were theirs or present in the Catholic Church in the United States.
The next decades saw an expanded commitment of the Paulists to the institutions of North American Catholicism,
establishing or taking charge of urban parishes (in Chicago, Portland, Toronto, Los Angeles, and other major cities), rural missions (especially in Tennessee) and the emerging ministry of the Newman apostolate at state and private colleges (at the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Texas at Austin, and University of California at Los Angeles, among the early Newman Clubs and Centers). The mission of promoting Catholic organizational unity and the Church's role and voice in American life was evident in the work of Monsignor John J. Burke, CSP, who was instrumental in the establishment of the National Catholic War Council during World War I and its successor organization, the National Catholic Welfare Conference. In 1922, the Paulists were entrusted with the pastoral care of Santa Susanna, the American parish in Rome.
Missionary Outreach. Through the middle decades of the twentieth century, the Paulist Fathers continued to develop ways of evangelizing beyond the Catholic community. Beginning in 1937, trailer missions went on the road throughout rural areas of the South and the Midwest. Catholic Information Centers were established in New York, Boston, Grand Rapids, Toronto, and additional sites, while most other Paulist parishes and Newman Centers offered regular classes for inquirers interested in Catholicism. The Paulist Radio Station WLWL broadcast from 1928 to 1935 and initial forays into television were begun in the 1950s. The community took on additional parishes and Newman Centers, most in predominantly non-Catholic areas, in the 1940s and 1950s, a trend that continued into the 1970s.
Post-Vatican II Developments. Following the call of the Second Vatican Council for the renewal of religious life, the Paulist Fathers Renewal Chapter (1967–68) produced an experimental constitution for the Society which, after successive modifications, received approval from Rome in 1989. Quadrennial General Assemblies continued the traditional role of the general chapter. A President and General Council, elected by all members in final profession, constituted the community's governing body. The President is assisted by two of these Consultors on a full-time Presidential Board, meeting regularly with the other Consultors as a General Council.
Revend Thomas F. Stransky, CSP, was elected the first President of the Society (1970). He had served under Cardinal Augustin Bea, SJ, in the Secretariat for Christian Unity in Rome and brought with him an expertise in both missiology and ecumenism, areas central to the post-conciliar mission of the Paulists. The new community Constitution committed the Paulists to the work of Christian unity and interreligious dialogue, along with the continued mission of invitation and welcome of individuals into the Catholic Church. The social justice dimension of evangelization was also clearly acknowledged. In light of the needs evident after Vatican II, the Paulists took a special interest in outreach to and reconciliation with Catholics who had been alienated from the Church. Parish missions were redeveloped, first to serve the needs of renewal immediately after the Council and then to promote evangelization and reconciliation outreach by parish communities. Information centers provided leadership in a number of dioceses in the transition from the traditional convert apostolate to the process of implementing the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Reverend Alvin A. Illig, CSP, emerged as a North American leader in responding to the call for new Catholic evangelization efforts made by Paul VI in evangelium nuntiandi (1975). Father Illig founded the Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association in 1977. The Paulist General Assembly of 1986 recommitted the Society to the threefold mission directions of evangelization, reconciliation, and ecumenism, emphasizing collaboration with the laity in these mission areas. The Paulists established a coordinating Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue in 1999.
The Paulist Press undertook a wide variety of new publishing ventures in and after the 1960s. Parish renewal programs, biblical studies and spirituality series with an ecumenical appeal, works promoting Jewish-Christian and interreligious dialogue, and basic Catholic adult education materials constituted a major portion of the publications of the Paulist Press during these decades. Other Paulist media ministries spanned the spectrum of radio, television, video, film, and the internet. Paulist Productions (1968) brought a Catholic dimension to the television and movie industry. Paulist Communications (1970), later Paulist Media Works, produced and disseminated Catholic radio programs and assisted Catholic communities and institutions in their media efforts. This has evolved into helping religious organizations communicate through the internet. The Paulist Young Adults Ministry (2000), an attempt to reach a population segment often with tangential relations to the church, focused on internet communications as a key component of its wider outreach.
The postconciliar Paulist Constitution affirmed life in community, in established community houses, as central to Paulist life. Diverse efforts to renew the Paulist life of communal prayer and mutual support in discipleship and ongoing conversion were given further impetus by the Community Direction Statement of the 1994 Paulist General Assembly. Paulist Associates involved individuals and groups (largely of lay men and women) appropriating and living the charism of Fr. Hecker and the Paulists in their own contexts of family, work, and society. The Paulist Associates program was authorized by the 1998 General Assembly and implemented in the following year. Efforts by members of the Paulist Fathers and their Associates to return to the sources of the Paulist charism were significantly aided by the publication of The Paulist Vocation (2000), a new and greatly expanded edition of selected writings of Father Hecker.
Bibliography: j. mcsorley, Isaac Hecker and His Friends (New York 1952). v. f. holden, The Yankee Paul: Isaac Thomas Hecker (Milwaukee 1958). j. farina, An American Experience of God: The Spirituality of Isaac Hecker (New York 1981). d. j. o'brien, Isaac Hecker: An American Catholic (New York 1992). The Paulist Vocation, revised and expanded (New York 2000).
[r. j. o'donnell]