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Isaac Thomas Hecker was born in New York City on December 18, 1819, the third son and youngest child of John and Caroline (Freund) Hecker. Ordained a Redemptorist priest in 1849, he founded the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle in New York on July 7, 1858. The society was established to evangelize both believers and non-believers in order to convert North America to the Roman Catholic Church. Father Hecker sought to evangelize Americans using the popular means of his day, primarily preaching, the public lecture circuit and the printing press. He founded the monthly publication, "The Catholic World," in 1865.

Father Hecker's spirituality centered on the action of the Holy Spirit upon the soul and the need to remain attentive to the prompting of the Spirit in the great and small moments of life. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Father Hecker labored to establish a dialogue between faith and culture, which he believed would lead to an American Catholicism whose vitality and optimism would transform the world.

In the latter years of his life, Father Hecker suffered suffered with dark nights of the soul that varied in intensity; this was combined with the physical problems of a weak heart and leukemia. While emotionally and physically overcome at moments, Father Hecker remained faithful through his sure belief in the Holy Spirit.

"God is now visiting me with the profoundest desolation of spirit. Yet I never knew that God would permit me to come so near to Him and love Him as I have," Father Hecker wrote.

On December 22, 1888, as the Paulist community gathered around his bed in prayer, Father Hecker raised his hand, making the Sign of the Cross in blessing, and died.





Father Hecker on the Spiritual Life:

February 9, 2014

The following are unpublished thoughts of Servant of God Isaac Hecker. This text is drawn from Hecker's personal papers under the title, Notes on the Spiritual Life. It was written in July 1860, just before the election of Abraham Lincoln and the coming of the Civil War. These reflections are drawn from his personal notes and contain a great deal of practical advice on developing the spiritual dimension of your life.

Living with our Imperfections

For beginners in the spiritual life the greatest obstacle can be a false standard of perfection. It raises a standard of perfection that is beyond our power to reach and causes us to give up and fail. We do not accomplish what is possible. Others suppose that the standard of Christian perfection is something that it is not.. For example, to suppose that it is possible for a person to avoid all kinds of venial sins. When they have resolved to strive after this perfection and find that they cannot do this, they become discouraged and give up, and possibly fall into mortal sin.

No one can avoid venial sin during one's lifetime. It is contrary to the Catholic faith to believe that anyone can. Many venial sins we can avoid and our striving will not be in vain. But venial sins that are not deliberate and spring mostly from our natural defects or from lack of attention, these are imperfections which no human being can ever completely avoid; except the Blessed Mother of Our Lord. She was enabled to do so through a special favor of God. To some, the idea of being a Christian is to be without any fault and without any imperfections. As Saint Francis de Sales says, what we need to rid ourselves of - is egoism, self love and at the hour of our death we shall be gla

Response by Rev. Paul Robichaud CSP

To beginners who seek to develop a spiritual life Servant of God Father Isaac Hecker warns us to go easy on ourselves. Learning to love God and place God first in our lives is the work we seek to do.. Father Hecker is concerned that we have don't develop a false sense of Christian perfection. He uses the example of venial sin. The Church defines sin in two cagegories, mortal and venial. Most practicing Christians oftentimes commit venial sin and to work at ridding ourselves of this is a good thing. Where Hecker cautions us is to be aware that venial sin is often not deliberate but happens because of bad habits or lack of attention. These can be difficult to overcome. In attempting to lead a better life, start with what is not difficult to change. If we attempt too much we may become discouraged and rather than commit less sin, we end up committing more.

Paulist Father Paul Robichaud CSP is Historian of the Paulist Fathers and Postulator of the Cause of Father Hecker. His office is located at the Hecker Center in Washington D.C.

If you have asked Father Hecker to pray for you or another person who is ill and you believe something miraculous has happened, please phone Fr. Paul at 202-269-2519 and tell him your story.
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