Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Hecker, Isaac Thomas

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HECKER, Isaac Thomas, clergyman, b. in New York city, 18 Dec., 1819; d. there, 22 Dec., 1888. His boyhood was passed in straitened circumstances, and he was obliged to support himself by manual labor, at the same time spending all the time he could spare in study. He afterward engaged in the flour business with his two brothers, but just as it was becoming a success entered on the study of Kant, and applied himself to metaphysics and theology. He finally withdrew entirely from mercantile pursuits, and became one of the Brook Farm community. Here he remained for nine months, occupied in baking the bread that was eaten by the community. He then became dissatisfied, and left Brook Farm in company with Henry D. Thoreau. The two friends were desirous of discovering on how little human life can be sustained, and they succeeded in living on nine cents a day. Meanwhile his brothers were anxious that he should resume his place in the business, and on his coming of age he consented to do so on condition that the three brothers should possess all in common and keep no separate purse, and that he should have entire charge of the men that were employed. He then provided a library for the workmen, fitted up a hall for their amusement, and frequently gave them lectures. This continued for a year, at the end of which he resumed his studies and investigations, and was at one time attracted by the theories of Fourier, but felt that they could not be successfully applied to society. At the age of twenty-two his attention was drawn to the Roman Catholic system by lectures delivered in New York by Dr. C. Brownlow, and in the following year, while staying with Thoreau in Massachusetts, he became a convert. He soon afterward went to Germany to study for the priesthood, was ordained by Cardinal Wiseman in London in 1849, and returned to the United States in 1851, having previously entered the Redemptorist order. He conducted several missions throughout the country, but, believing that a new order was necessary which should be thoroughly American in character, spent the autumn and winter of 1857-’8 in Rome, and laid his plans before the pope, who approved. On his return to the United States he went on a preaching and a lecturing tour throughout the United States and Canada, and soon had enough money collected for his purpose. He at once bought the ground that is at present occupied by the church, residence, and schools of the Paulist community, and proceeded to build a church and a home for himself and his followers. The religious community founded by Father Hecker differs in one respect from other similar Roman Catholic associations. The members take no special vows, and any priest can leave the order when he chooses. It is known as the congregation of St. Paul, and the members, who are nearly all of American birth and converts from Protestantism, are called the Paulist fathers. It was the intention of its founder that its tendencies, rule, and discipline should be entirely appropriated to the usages and needs of American life. Father Hecker took part in the Catholic congress of Malines in September, 1869, and his views of the relations that ought to exist between the Roman Catholic church and democracies, and which did exist in the United States, were expressed in an article in the “Revue générale” of Brussels. He was present at the council of the Vatican as theologian to Archbishop Spalding, and on his return to the United States fell sick and was obliged to visit Europe again, this time travelling also through Egypt and the Holy Land. He came back in October, 1875, and on 29 Dec. was re-elected superior of the congregation of St. Paul for the full term of nine years. Father Hecker was the founder, and was till lately the director, of the Catholic publication society of New York. He also founded in 1865 the “Catholic World,” the chief Roman Catholic magazine on the American continent, and he continued to edit it. His works include “Questions of the Soul” (New York, 1855); “Aspirations of Nature” (1857); “Catholicity in the United States” (1879); and “Catholics and Protestants Agreeing on the School Question” (1881). His last writings are a series of papers on Orestes A. Brownson, in the “Catholic World.”