By Patricia Zapor | Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — With blessings, prayers of thanks, a sprinkling of holy water and the words, “Seminarians, you are finally home,” the Hecker House for men in formation with the Paulists was dedicated in a ceremony Nov. 19 at the new building in Northeast Washington.
Dozens of Paulist priests, seminarians, other religious order members, lay supporters and those who had a hand in constructing the new house of mission and studies shivered cheerfully for the outdoor dedication ceremony in weather that Paulist Father Eric Andrews described as a “Macy’s Day Parade-like day.”
Father Andrews is immediate past president of the Paulists, who shepherded much of the work to construct the new building.
Observing that Washington is a city of great universities, Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory described the Hecker House as one of the institutions that make Washington “a city where the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge is one of our daily activities.”
In blessing the building, Washington’s cardinal asked God to “pour out on us that spirit of wisdom that belongs to him as a gift that is both divine and human. May the Paulists in this new residence fulfill their mission and grow in wisdom, age and grace before God and the human family.”
The 27,000-square-foot, $12 million Hecker House is located just down the hill from the Paulists’ former seminary building, a massive structure that once housed dozens of priests and seminarians at a time.
As part of what the Paulists call “right-sizing” their operations, the religious order has over the past couple of decades sold that building as well as most of the 25 acres it formerly owned in the Brookland neighborhood, south of The Catholic University of America.
Revenue from the sales helped nearly erase a deficit in the order’s retirement fund, according to staff members.
The former seminary is now home to two charter schools and the adjoining land is covered with modern townhouses and a small park.
Father René Constanza, president of the Paulist Fathers, opened his comments by saying, “Seminarians, you are finally home.” He explained that Hecker House is designed to facilitate the Paulists in being faithful to the mission of St. Paul and the order’s founder, Father Isaac Hecker, a candidate for sainthood who has the title “Servant of God.”
“The Paulists who will be formed (here) will be prepared to minister to Catholics who no longer practice their faith, to minister to women people of color, young adults in their 20s and 30s and also to those who identify as LGBTQ+ and others who may not feel at home in the Catholic Church,” Father Constanza said.
“The Paulists formed in Hecker House will be trained to listen, to be present, to listen to people who are now absent from the conversation and to give them a sense of belonging and welcome in our church, a true Paulist identity,” the priest said.
“We Paulists are also seeking to advance ways of how our faith can address the blindness, fear and anger wrapped up in toxic polarization that afflicts our country,” he said.
The brief dedication program included thanks for the donors, architects, builders and others who were essential to the project.
Like many recent construction projects, the pandemic and related delays dragged out the process longer than expected. Father Andrews joked that when making arrangements for Cardinal Gregory to preside at the dedication, the date seemed distant.
“When the cardinal’s office said Nov. 19, I said, ‘We’re going to have this building done months before Nov. 19.’ We got our certificate of occupancy on Tuesday (Nov. 15).”
So recently was that occupancy permit received that the residents have not yet moved in from their temporary home of the past few years.
Cardinal Gregory noted that the Society of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, best known as the Josephite religious order, has hosted the Paulists at St. Joseph’s Seminary, a little more than a mile away.
“And now they are losing their roomies,” he observed. “We are so grateful that these two communities shared so much in common over these past several years.”
The Hecker House will be the residence for the 10 or so men in formation with the Paulists order at any given time, as well as a handful of Paulist priests who staff the formation program and others who may be working or visiting in Washington, explained the order’s marketing and communications director, Paul Snatchko.
The building has state-of-the art communications equipment, in keeping with the order’s media-focused ministry. For example, its chapel and meeting rooms are equipped to livestream liturgies and meetings.
In addition to its residential areas, the three-story building has a library, kitchen and dining area, an exercise room and a garage equipped with an electric car charging station.
The Paulists are a U.S.-based order with around 100 priests. Their primary ministries have long focused on communications and outreach to young adults, particularly on college campuses. Their ministries today include Paulist Press, Paulist Productions, Busted Halo, Landings International, downtown centers and campus ministry, among others.
They staff parishes, downtown or student centers in California, Chicago, Boston, New York, Tennessee, Texas, Michigan and Florida and St. Patrick’s Catholic American Parish in Rome.
In the Washington area, Paulists in formation for the priesthood regularly work with local parishes and schools in various ministries.