The Paulists began in New York City, in 1858, at a time of great optimism and expansion. They are the first religious community of priests to be founded in North America. Father Isaac Thomas Hecker, the Paulist Founder, along with the four other first Paulists, all came to the Catholic faith from Protestantism. They all wanted to help the Church express its message to modern people living in North American society to be missionaries in the modern world.
The primary dynamic of the Paulist Community is reaching out—particularly to those without faith or on the edge of faith, and to other believers in a quest for unity and understanding. As missionaries, we don’t live for ourselves or primarily to serve Catholic congregations. We live to bring the faith to others. This requires a distinct kind of self-denial, a particular kind of stretching. It means that movement—personal and spiritual — is part of our life.
Because we are a religious society, we are therefore a brotherhood living and working together—an important resource for our missionary life. Our life together is an opportunity to share faith and to pray together and so support each other in our work and Paulist life. We feel a strong responsibility toward each other—we live what we preach, and our lives reflect our religious promise.
The Paulists’ primary missionary field is today’s modern societies of the United States and Canada, cultures with great global influence. We evangelize these societies in a host of ways: preaching, publishing, developing missionary parishes, serving on secular campuses, taking leadership in the evangelization movement, developing programs to help people return to the Church, working in ecumenism, radio, video, television, cinema and through the internet. Every Paulist is both greatly conversant with modern North American culture and very eager to engage it. Paulists pay particular attention to the cultural diversity that characterizes North American society in urban centers and on university campuses.
As missionaries we lead people to Christ and the Church. Ordination to the diaconate and priesthood involves us in the key evangelizing processes of the Church: initiation…leading to baptism; reconciliation… leading to confession and a return to the Church occurring most dramatically through the Eucharist. Our special task is to live our ordained lives in such a way that we help the whole Church recover its missionary dimension.
We have a spirituality focused on the Holy Spirit Fr. Isaac Hecker, our founder, felt himself personally guided by the Holy Spirit even as he was keenly attuned to the Church and society around him. In continuation of Fr.Hecker’s tradition,Paulists cultivate a personal devotion to the Holy Spirit and seek the Spirit’s movement in the Church and world around us.
We prize our individuality and freedom Paulists are not descended from large European-based religious congregations. Founded in North America,we see ourselves as a small, modern, flexible community. Respecting the structures necessary for organization and decision-making, Paulists emphasize the individual gifts the Spirit has given each one and the freedom needed to use those gifts in accord with the goals of the Community.
As missionaries trying to understand today’s society and those searching for faith, we strive to be flexible —affirming and accepting people.We want everyone to feel an embrace of welcome.We cultivate informality in our approach—a practicality and humanism that we believe serves the furtherance of the Kingdom in the lives of people
Because we are a small congregation, we know we will not be able to achieve our work by ourselves. Valuing structures of collegiality and collaboration, of dialogue and participation, we seek to work with those in our centers and parishes—to empower them to mission and to deepen their own vocations. We believe all the baptized are called to accept the challenge of discipleship.We take particular pride in how often lay people remark how comfortable Paulists make them feel.
Following in the spirituality of Fr. Hecker who had a great belief in divine Providence and the Spirit’s guidance of events, Paulists face the future with optimism and downplay the tendency to be negative toward culture and suspicious of new things. God has just begun his work with us, so we face the future with eagerness!
Much in the modern style, Paulists appreciate the humor, irony and contrasts that make up life today. We try to be personable, accessible, laid-back and bridge-builders. A quip, a laugh, a smile—we try anything that will warm things up and help people feel drawn in.
As a fully approved congregation in the Catholic Church, the Church looks on the Paulist Community in a very particular way. We belong to a group of congregations called societies of the apostolic life. Only 15 religious congregations have that status today. These communities do not take the three traditional vows that characterize consecrated life, but instead concentrate on their mission. The Church sees three dimensions to a society of the apostolic life.
The Paulists, therefore, are not like Benedictines or Dominicans or other great Orders whose lives are grounded in the three vows. Rather than taking vows, we take a promise to obey our Paulist Constitution that lays out our mission, our pursuit of holiness, and our living simply, obediently and chastely. Fr. Hecker and the other early Paulist founders felt that taking a promise reflected more directly the way things are done in North American society.
Integrity means that our outer actions reveal the core inner values that the Spirit of the Risen Jesus generates in us. The Paulists seek holiness by living passionately for our mission, in communion with our Paulist brothers, and pursuing those directions that the Holy Spirit unfolds for us individually and as a community. There’s no better way to understand what makes the Paulists different than to meet us. If a picture speaks a thousand words, a personal meeting, a smile, a warm hello speaks volumes.