Life of Father Hecker
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Title: Life of Father Hecker
Author: Walter Elliott
Release Date: April 29, 2006 [EBook #18283]
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Produced by David McClamrock
THE LIFE OF FATHER HECKER
BYREV. WALTER ELLIOTT________________________
THE COLUMBUS PRESS
Nihil obstat:AUGUSTINUS F. HEWIT,Censor Deputatus.
Imprimatur:M. A. CORRIGAN,Archiepiscopus Neo-Ebor.________________________
THE reader must indulge me with what I cannot help saying, that Ihave felt the joy of a son in telling the achievements andchronicling the virtues of Father Hecker. I loved him with the sacredfire of holy kinship, and love him still—only the more that lapse oftime has deepened by experience, inner and outer, the sense of truthand of purity he ever communicated to me in life, and courage andfidelity to conscience. I feel it to be honor enough and joy enoughfor a life-time that I am his first biographer, though but a lateborn child and of merit entirely insignificant. The literary work is,indeed, but of home-made quality, yet it serves to hold together whatis the heaven-made wisdom of a great teacher of men. It will be foundthat Father Hecker has three words in this book to my one, though allmy words I tried to make his. His journals, letters, and recordedsayings are the edifice into which I introduce the reader, and mywords are the hinges and latchets of its doors. I am glad of this,for it pleases me to dedicate my good will and my poor work toswinging open the doors of that new House of God that Isaac Heckerwas to me, and that I trust he will be to many.
CHAPTER I.—CHILDHOOD II.—YOUTH III.—THE TURNING-POINT IV.—LED BY THE SPIRIT V.—AT BROOK FARM VI.—INNER LIFE WHILE AT BROOK FARM VII.—STRUGGLES VIII.—FRUITLANDS IX.—SELF-QUESTIONINGS X.—AT HOME AGAIN XI.—STUDYING AND WRITING XII.—THE MYSTIC AND THE PHILOSOPHER XIII.—HIS SEARCH AMONG THE SECTS XIV.—HIS LIFE AT CONCORD XV.—AT THE DOOR OF THE CHURCH XVI.—AT THE DOOR OF THE CHURCH—(Continued) XVII.—ACROSS THE THRESHOLD XVIII.—NEW INFLUENCES XIX.—YEARNINGS AFTER CONTEMPLATION XX.—FROM NEW YORK TO ST. TROND XXI.—BROTHER HECKER XXII.—HOW BROTHER HECKER MADE HIS STUDIES AND WAS ORDAINED PRIEST XXIII.—A REDEMPTORIST MISSIONARY XXIV.—SEPARATION FROM THE REDEMPTORISTS XXV.—BEGINNINGS OF THE PAULIST COMMUNITY XXVI.—FATHER HECKER'S IDEA OF A RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY XXVII.—FATHER HECKER'S SPIRITUAL DOCTRINEXXVIII.—THE PAULIST PARISH AND MISSIONS XXIX.—FATHER HECKER'S LECTURES XXX.—THE APOSTOLATE OF THE PRESS XXXI.—THE VATICAN COUNCIL XXXII.—THE LONG ILLNESSXXXIII.—"THE EXPOSITION OF THE CHURCH" XXXIV.—IN THE SHADOW OF DEATH XXXV.—CONCLUSION
BY MOST REV. JOHN IRELAND, D.D.,Archbishop of St. Paul.
LIFE is action, and so long as there is action there is life. Thatlife is worth living whose action puts forth noble aspirations andgood deeds. The man's influence for truth and virtue persevering inactivity, his life has not ceased, though earth has clasped his bodyin its embrace. It is well that it is so. The years of usefulnessbetween the cradle and the grave are few. The shortness of a liferestricted to them is sufficient to discourage many from makingstrong efforts toward impressing the workings of their souls upontheir fellows. The number to whose minds we have immediate access issmall, and they do not remain. Is the good we might do worth thelabor? We cannot at times refuse a hearing to the question.Fortunately, it is easily made clear to us that the area over whichinfluence travels is vastly more extensive than at first sightappears. The eye will not always discern the undulations of itsspreading waves; but onward it goes, from one soul to another, farbeyond our immediate ranks, and as each soul touched by it becomes anew motive power, it rolls forward, often with energy a hundred timesintensified, long after the shadows of death have settled around itspoint of departure.
Isaac Thomas Hecker lives to-day, and with added years he will livemore fully than he does to-day. His influence for good remains, andwith a better understanding of his plans and ideals, which is sure tocome, his influence will widen and deepen among laymen and priests ofthe Church in America. The writing of his biography is a tribute tohis memory which the love and esteem of his spiritual children couldnot refuse; it is, also, a most important service to generationspresent and unborn, in whose deeds will be seen the fruits ofinspirations gathered from it. We are thankful that this biographyhas been written by one who from closest converse and most intimatefriendship knew Father Hecker so thoroughly. He has given us in hisbook what we need to know of Father Hecker. We care very little,except so far as details may accentuate the great lines of a life andmake them sensible to our obtuse touch, where or when a man was born,what places he happened to visit, what houses he built, or in whatcircumstances of malady or in what surroundings he died. These thingscan be said of the ten thousand. We want to know the thoughts and theresolves of the soul which made him a marked man above his fellowsand which begot strong influences for good and great works, and ifnone such can be unfolded then drop the man out of sight, with a"Requiescant in pace" engraven upon his tombstone. Few deserve abiography, and to the undeserving none should be given.
If it be permitted to speak of self, I might say that to FatherHecker I am indebted for most salutary impressions which, Isorrowfully confess, have not had in me their due effect; theremembrance of them, however, is a proof to me of the usefulness ofhis life, and its power for good in others. I am glad to have theopportunity to profess publicly my gratitude to him. He was in theprime of life and work when I was for the first time brought toobserve him. I was quite young in the ministry, and very naturally Iwas casting my eye around in search of ideal men, whose footstepswere treading the path I could feel I, too, ought to travel. I neverafterwards wholly lost sight of Father Hecker, watching him as wellas I could from a distance of two thousand miles. I am not to-daywithout some experience of men and things, won from years and toils,and I do not alter one tittle my estimate of him, except to make ithigher. To the priests of the future I recommend a serious study ofFather Hecker's life. To them I would have his biography dedicated.Older men, like myself, are fixed in their ways, and they will notreceive from it so much benefit.
Father Hecker was the typical American priest; his were the gifts ofmind and heart that go to do great work for God and for souls inAmerica at the present time. Those qualities, assuredly, were notlacking in him which are the necessary elements of character of thegood priest and the great man in any time and place. Those are thesubsoil of priestly culture, and with the absence of them no one willsucceed in America any more than elsewhere. But suffice they do not.There must be added, over and above, the practical intelligence andthe pliability of will to understand one's surroundings, the groundupon which he is to deploy his forces, and to adapt himself tocircumstances and opportunities as Providence appoints. I do notexpect that my words, as I am here writing, will receive universalapproval, and I am not at all sure that their expression would havebeen countenanced by the priest whose memory brings them to my lips.I write as I think, and the responsibility must be all my own. It isas clear to me as noon-day light that countries and peoples have eachtheir peculiar needs and aspirations as they have their peculiarenvironments, and that, if we would enter into souls and controlthem, we must deal with them according to their conditions. The idealline of conduct for the priest in Assyria will be out of all measurein Mexico or Minnesota, and I doubt not that one doing fairly well inMinnesota would by similar methods set things sadly astray inLeinster or Bavaria. The Saviour prescribed timeliness in pastoralcaring. The master of a house, He said, "bringeth forth out of histreasury new things and old," as there is demand for one kind or theother. The apostles of nations, from Paul before the Areopagus toPatrick upon the summit of Tara, followed no different principle.
The circumstances of Catholics have been peculiar in the UnitedStates, and we have unavoidably suffered on this account. Catholicsin largest numbers were Europeans, and so were their priests, many ofwhom—by no means all—remained in heart and mind and mode of actionas alien to America as if they had never been removed from theShannon, the Loire, or the Rhine. No one need remind me thatimmigration has brought us inestimable blessings, or that without itthe Church in America would be of small stature. The remembrance of aprecious fact is not put aside, if I recall an accidental evilattaching to it. Priests foreign in disposition and work were notfitted to make favorable impressions upon the non-Catholic Americanpopulation, and the American-born children of Catholic immigrantswere likely to escape their action. And, lest I be misunderstood, Iassert all this is as true of priests coming from Ireland as from anyother foreign country. Even priests of American ancestry, ministeringto immigrants, not unfrequently fell into the lines of those aroundthem, and did but little to make the Church in America throb withAmerican life. Not so Isaac Thomas Hecker. Whether consciously orunconsciously I do not know, and it matters not, he looked on Americaas the fairest conquest for divine truth, and he girded himself witharms shaped and tempered to the American pattern. I think that it maybe said that the American current, so plain for the last quarter of acentury in the flow of Catholic affairs, is, largely at least, to betraced back to Father Hecker and his early co-workers. It used to besaid of them in reproach that they were the "Yankee" Catholic Church;the reproach was their praise.
Father Hecker understood and loved the country and its institutions.He saw nothing in them to be deprecated or changed; he had no longingfor the flesh-pots and bread-stuffs of empires and monarchies. Hisfavorite topic in book and lecture was, that the Constitution of theUnited States requires, as its necessary basis, the truths ofCatholic teaching regarding man's natural state, as opposed to theerrors of Luther and Calvin. The republic, he taught, presupposes theChurch's doctrine, and the Church ought to love a polity which is theoffspring of her own spirit. He understood and loved the people ofAmerica. He recognized in them splendid natural qualities. Was he notright? Not minimizing in the least the dreadful evil of the absenceof the supernatural, I am not afraid to give as my belief that thereis among Americans as high an appreciation and as lively arealization of natural truth and goodness as has been seen in anypeople, and it seems as if Almighty God, intending a great age and agreat people, has put here in America a singular development ofnature's powers and gifts, both in man and out of man—with thefurther will, I have the faith, of crowning all with the glory of thesupernatural. Father Hecker perceived this, and his mission was tohold in his hands the natural, which Americans extolled and cherishedand trusted in, and by properly directing its legitimate tendenciesand growth to lead it to the term of its own instincts andaspirations—Catholic truth and Catholic grace. Protestantism