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Isaac Thomas Hecker

From 1819
 to 1888

Friend and colleague of Lord Acton and Cardinal John Henry Newman, and founder of the Missionary Society of St. Paul (Paulist Fathers), Isaac Hecker is chiefly known for his efforts to reconcile Roman Catholicism with American liberal democracy. His political views were radically Jacksonian in his youth, and his millennialist belief that God created America as a beacon of light to the world remained with him throughout his life.

He believed that government should protect the equal rights of all citizens, including property rights as guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. He opposed the granting of special rights to elites and monopoly interests, and supported small businessmen, tradesmen and artisans. He wanted as little government as possible. In time, he became disenchanted with the political process because the “evils of society were not so much political as social, and that not much was to be hoped from political action.”

He came to believe that the “Church” was the necessary vehicle for social reform. Through religious conversion, people would join a larger community bonded together by faith in God. The Roman Catholic vision of community contributed to his eventual religious conversion. Through the conversion of the nation, the Church would have its impact on social life; it should thus avoid meddling in politics. To Hecker, the community binding agent and the translator of values should be the Church, not government. He opposed centralized power and felt that the definition of papal infallibility at Vatican I would result in the diminishing of papal authority, not its increase-yet he accepted the teaching once it was decreed.