Father Hecker’s work continues
It was Jan. 25, 2006, and the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in Manhattan was crowed with faithful wanting to experience history in the making. The event was the Mass that officially opened the cause for canonization for the founder of the Paulist Fathers, Father Isaac Hecker. Bearing witness to this profound and sacred moment was Dr. Phyllis Zagano, seated only feet away from Father Hecker’s tomb at the back of the church.
“It was an impressive ceremony – impressive for its dignity and for its simplicity,” recalled Dr. Zagano. “Sitting there with a thousand other people, in that church, in that town, on that day, just feet from Hecker’s tomb, I think I learned from him little more of what life is all about.
Six years after that historic day, and again on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, Dr. Zagano received the 2014 Isaac Hecker Award for Social Justice from the Paulist Center in Boston on Jan. 25. Dr. Zagano also spoke at each of the weekend Masses at the center.
“I stand in gratitude because you live your lives in such a manner that this parish community regularly and routinely gives support to people and to organizations that carry the Gospel forward,” she said. “I thank you for them, and for myself, and I thank you for your example and the instruction you give on how to live the message of Jesus.”
The Paulist Center began the annual Hecker Award in 1974 to honor an outstanding American Catholic who put his or her faith in action in order to bring about a more just and peaceful world. The award is named after Paulist Founder Servant of God Father Isaac T. Hecker, himself a writer and lecturer who strived to bridge the gap between faith and culture. Dr. Zagano joins a prestigious list of Hecker Award recipients including Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, and Martin Sheen.
Dr. Phyllis Zagano, recipient of the 2014 Isaac Hecker Award for Social Justice, greets and signs books for those attending a reception in her honor at the Paulist Center in Boston Jan. 25. Dr. Zagano received the award during Mass celebrated earlier that evening.
The award honors Dr. Zagano’s efforts and commitment to the goals of Father Hecker, said Susan Rutkowski, pastoral associate for social justice at the Paulist Center.
“Father Hecker died in 1888, but through her work at Paulist Press and beyond, Phyllis Zagano continues to implement and expand his vision for sharing Christ in the Gospel to North America through the medium of the printed word,” Mrs. Rutkowski said in introducing Dr. Zagano.
Currently the senior research associate-in-residence and adjunct professor of religion at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Dr. Zagano is an “internationally acclaimed Catholic scholar and lecturer on contemporary spirituality and women’s issues in the Church,” said Mrs. Rutkowski. “Her life and work have consistently echoed the cry of the poorest of our society for dignity and for justice both inside and outside of the Church.”
Dr. Zagano has also taught at Fordham, Boston and Yale universities, and worked as a researcher for the Diocese of New York. She is the award-wining author or editor of sixteen books in religious studies, including several published by Paulist Press. She also writes a twice-monthly column in the National Catholic Reporter.
“You have given me an award, but you have given me much more,” said Dr. Zagano in her remarks to the congregation. “But it is not about me. It is about the thousands and thousands of women whose voices are not heard, whose voices cannot be heard, in this country or elsewhere. It is about those millions of women in two-thirds of the world who have no voices and no choices, those millions who cannot listen to the call of Jesus because they do not have the freedom to make any changes in their lives. …
“Hecker wrote, again in 1854, that as we are converted, as we understand our destiny, we understand that its accomplishment ‘depends less upon our action than on the unconditional surrender to what God wishes of us.’ How very true. Hecker is a candidate for sainthood not because he followed someone else’s path. Hecker is a candidate for sainthood because he made his own way along the path Christ pointed out to him. That is how he found his vocation. That is how he found his peace.
“The one implies the other, you know. Peace of heart allows us to see the path we must follow, and in following that path we gain even more peace of heart. Life is an ongoing sacred story. It is an unending conversion. Sometimes, it is difficult. Sometimes, it is confusing. But it is a really great ride. Enjoy it.”