Isaac Hecker: An American Catholic

Overview

Isaac Thomas Hecker was the prototype nineteenth-century American. He was an idealist and a visionary, a believer in the "rightness" of the American experiment. A utopian at heart, Hecker sampled life in New England's transcendentalist communes, later entering the Catholic Church where he began a new community that was founded on the ideals of freedom and personal initiative. He had all the virtues and all the flaws of his era, being optimistic, passionate, energetic, far-sighted, naive. Yet Hecker was also ...
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Overview

Isaac Thomas Hecker was the prototype nineteenth-century American. He was an idealist and a visionary, a believer in the "rightness" of the American experiment. A utopian at heart, Hecker sampled life in New England's transcendentalist communes, later entering the Catholic Church where he began a new community that was founded on the ideals of freedom and personal initiative. He had all the virtues and all the flaws of his era, being optimistic, passionate, energetic, far-sighted, naive. Yet Hecker was also profoundly counter-cultural. He was a mystic in an age of pragmatism. He proclaimed the value of the collective to a generation of Americans who already were falling under the influence of laissez-faire individualism. Within his adopted Catholic community he championed personalism to an unreceptive audience; Rome and its hierarchy were in a defensive posture that favored obedience and conformity. In the end Rome assailed "Americanism" as a threat to its good order. David J. O'Brien has written the first, full life of Isaac Hecker to appear in a hundred years. In the process he enables us to see Hecker's great significance for American religious and social history. Hecker was well-known in his own day--a friend of Thoreau, Emerson and Alcott, popular speaker, best-selling author--but soon after his death he slipped into semi-obscurity. To Catholic intransigents he was an embarrassment, to American pragmatists he was a curiosity. But the present age has witnessed a renewal of spiritual seeking that characterized Hecker's own journey, and the church he swore allegiance to has begun to see things the way he did. The time is ripe for this honest and comprehensive account of Isaac Hecker's fascinating story.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Founder of the American order of Paulists, Hecker (1803-1888) is described in the spirited foreword to this comprehensive biography as ``a tortured idealist who matched his time and place.'' A convert to Catholicism at age 41, Hecker was a born evangelist whose early sojourns with the New England Transcendentalists at Brook Farm and Fruitlands illuminated his mature vision of a Catholic America. After his 1849 ordination, however, he had difficulties with ecclesialstet authority and a falling-out with his old friend and mentor from Brook Farm, Orestes Brownson, another visionary and vocal convert to Catholicism. Hecker's wrenching inner conflicts and his outer struggle to put in action a uniquely American spirituality are revealed in this finely tuned portrait of a man whose struggle to reconcile religious faith and American identity has contemporary resonance. A professor of history at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass., O'Brien elucidates the forces that shaped American religious history in the past century. Photos not seen by PW. (July)
Library Journal
In the first full-length biography of Hecker, a 19th-century priest and mystic, O'Brien plumbs the depth of Hecker's evangelical view that America should become Catholic and that absolutely all human life should be brought under the direction of God's holy spirit. O'Brien captures the innocence and confused excitement of the young seeker as he sets out on a course that takes him through the transcendentalist themes of the time. Finding that philosophy could pose, but not answer, the fundamental questions of life, Hecker was driven to Catholicism and formed a congregation devoted to converting non-Catholics to Catholicism. In their evangelical efforts, the Congregation of the Missionary Priests of St. Paul the Apostle (the Paulists) explore reason, free will, and human dignity through such publications as Catholic World . O'Brien effectively depicts the exterior of this many-faceted, introverted, activist priest. Recommended for scholarly collections.-- L. Kriz, Sioux City P.L., Ia.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780809103973
  • Publisher: Paulist Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/1992
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.33 (h) x 1.44 (d)

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