Isaac Hecker (1819-1888)


Isaac Hecker (1819-1888)

Isaac Thomas Hecker (December 18,1819-December 22, 1888) was an American Roman Catholic Priest and the founder of the Paulist Fathers. Hecker was born into a religious Methodist family and strongly believed in God. As such, Hecker constantly endeavored to better understand His role in life. To answer this question, he traveled to Massachusetts to live with the Transcendentalists.

During this time, Hecker adopted the Transcendentalist ideal of a Holy Spirit within one. Hecker developed a deep spiritual sense of self. He wanted to better understand how God existed not only within people, but also in all moments of life. As such, when he founded the religious group, the Paulist Fathers, individual sense of religion and community were critical to him. He believed that this Holy Spirit was driving him towards a career in the Catholic Church. However, Catholicism was not popular in the United States, for it was considered “too European.” As such, in the mid-1840s Hecker decided that he would set foot on a voyage Through Europe to Rome, in order to connect with the Roman Catholic Church and better understand his faith.

In the summer of 1844, Hecker corresponded with Thoreau, trying to convince him to join on the European expedition. After much deliberation on Thoreau’s end, he rejected Hecker’s proposal, noting that New England was his home and there was too much land there that he was yet to explore and discover. While Hecker and Thoreau did not correspond much after this time, the two shared similar religious ideals and sought to find answers about themselves and the world through exploration. 

A Bit of Unpublished Correspondence Between Henry D. Thoreau and Isaac T. Hecker (1902). By E. Harlow Russell.