Hecker felt God was calling him to stand up for exploited immigrants in the city, so he and his brothers joined a faction of New York’s Democratic Party known as the Loco-Focos in order to try to achieve political change.
That faction ultimately failed to garner support from the city’s Democratic Party, and Hecker felt hopeless, wondering what his calling from God was.
Beginning to grow in a relationship with God in his 20s, Hecker had several mystical experiences in his dreams. In 1843 he wrote about a vision he had 10 months prior, according to his biography on the Paulist Fathers’ website.
That vision consisted of “a beautiful angelic, pure being and myself standing alongside of her, feeling a most heavenly pure joy,” Hecker wrote.
“And it was if our bodies were luminous and they gave forth a moon-like light, which I felt sprang from the joy that we experienced,” he wrote.
As he continued to search for where God was calling him, Hecker went to Boston to receive the guidance of an Anglican philosopher, Orestes Brownson, who encouraged the young man to join a suburban Boston community of scholars, writers, artists, farmers, tradesmen, and preachers with the purpose of searching for truth.
Not feeling satisfied, Hecker joined another scholarly community six months later near Harvard, Massachusetts, in July 1843. Still experiencing an internal spiritual struggle, he returned to his family in New York City one month later.
Returning to work with his brothers, he refused to join politics after his experience in the Loco-Focos movement. Hecker also felt that politics and his work were a distraction to his meditation and prayer.
Eventually, Hecker decided he wanted to become a Christian minister but was conflicted on which denomination to join. He had narrowed down the choices to either the Anglican Church or the Roman Catholic Church.
Hecker consulted Anglican Rev. Samuel Seabury, rector of the Church of the Annunciation in New York City, and Catholic Archbishop John Hughes of New York.
After his meeting with Hughes, Hecker wrote in his diary that “the Roman Catholic Church is not national with us, hence it does not meet our wants, nor does it fully understand and sympathize with the experiences and disposition of our people. It is principally made up of adopted and foreign individuals.”
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Hecker reconsidered converting to Catholicism in 1844 when Brownson told him of his decision to join the Catholic Church.
Hecker consulted the Diocese of Boston’s then co-adjutor Bishop John Bernard Fitzpatrick and was moved by the meeting.
He was baptized on Aug. 2, 1844, by New York co-adjutor Archbishop John McCloskey, who directed him to grow in his spiritual life through daily Mass and prayer.
A zealous preacher
Struggling to determine in which order to become a priest, Hecker eventually chose the Redemptorists, or the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. He sailed for Belgium for his formation in 1845.
Hecker was ordained a priest on Oct. 23, 1849, and began his priestly ministry in Liverpool, England. In 1851, he returned to New York City to serve in a newly established province of the order.