The Commercial Appeal
Paulists ending long tenure at St. Patrick’s.
Icame to the Mid-South as a Paulist missionary 15 years ago, quite excited and with a bit of family history here. My great-grandfather, Major Lewis Bowlus, was a young abolitionist from Cincinnati who joined the Army of the Ohio at the outbreak of the Civil War to end slavery forever and let freedom ring. He fought here in Tennessee and later settled in Knoxville.
As his great-grandson, it has been my honor and privilege to play a small part in the rich Paulist legacy of working for the same goal of freedom by serving the Prince of Peace.
The Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle, popularly known as the Paulists, is leaving Memphis as our nearly 60-year-old mission here at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church comes to a close. Father Tim Sullivan and I are being reassigned to other communities. Father Eric Peterson is being transferred from St. Mary parish here in Memphis to serve St. Pat’s. Steve Montgomery, Idlewild Presbyterian Church
Several services and festivities this weekend will honor our ministry to the Bluff City and its surrounding region.
The Paulists were the first Catholic religious society of consecrated life to be founded in the United States. Isaac Thomas Hecker, Transcendentalist associate of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and the Alcotts, became a Catholic in 1844 and a priest in 1849. He founded the Paulists to be a community of evangelists whose mission would be to proclaim Jesus Christ in the Catholic way of life.
Launched in 1858, on the eve of the Civil War, the Paulists, according to Hecker, would be a vehicle in uniting America spiritually. The Holy Spirit would be the force in reconciling America and making our country, as Scripture says, a “light to the nations.”
Our Paulist Society has been doing mission work in Tennessee since 1900. Based in Winchester, missionaries would travel throughout the state, first on horseback and later in their famous “trailer mission” revivals. They would preach the love of Christ from the pulpit while inviting people to conversion to holiness and greater participation in the Church.
Paulists came to Memphis in 1954, first to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, and later, from 2002 to 2012, to St. Augustine Catholic Church. Forty Paulists have served those parishes over the years.
Our mission in Memphis has been manifold. We have provided pastoral care to our parishioners, always striving to encourage a welcoming and inviting family spirit among our people. In fact, our parishioners have largely evangelized us. Prayerful liturgies have served as the “fount and summit” of all parish ministries.
Our parishes have had evangelization as a primary focus, very much in the spirit of our founder, Father Hecker. This focus has included parishioners’ outreach to the neighborhood in the form of home visitation, community organizing, food and clothing distribution, hospitality to the homeless, and related human services.
Paulists have always been readily available for hospital ministry. St. Patrick’s has had a longstanding close relationship with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. This has its roots to way back when one of its priests, Samuel Stritch, was transferred to Ohio in the early part of the 20th century as bishop of Toledo.
Bishop Stritch would later encourage one of his former altar servers, Danny Thomas, to come to Memphis and estab- lish his world-famous institution. Ministering to children and families at St. Jude and to the patients and staff in all of our Memphis hospitals has been a true experience of the Holy for us Paulists.
Paulists serving both St. Augustine and St. Patrick’s parishes have enthusiastically celebrated the richness of Memphis’ African-American culture and history. In the neighborhood of St. Augustine, near Elmwood Cemetery where Sister Thea Bowman, Benjamin Hooks and other great African-Americans are buried, is Stax Records, the cradle of soul music. Its early artists would often rehearse in St. Patrick’s Center.
It was in the dining room of St. Patrick’s where the sanitation workers met in 1968 to form a union and invite Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to come to Memphis and support their struggle. Parishioners would joyously participate in that historic march from their parking lot to the “mountaintop” of Mason Temple.
My brother Paulists, from the beginning, have made social justice a moral obsession. Preferential option for the poor, a key element in Catholic social teaching, has been a Community priority. We have embraced ongoing preaching and witnessing against discrimination of any type, with regard to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or related categories of humanity.
Justice ministries by our people have included pro-life work, death penalty advocacy, pastoral and legal support for Memphis’ exploding Latino and immigrant population, and Pax Christi peace activity. Greater inclusiveness within the Church of all the diverse members of Christ’s Mystical Body, a standard Paulist goal, has been lovingly embodied by our parishioners.
In addition to regular parish ministry, Paulists have tutored children in local public schools way before we were blessed with the Jubilee Catholic Schools. We have been charter participants in ecumenical and interfaith activities in our deeply religious Memphis population. Paulists were also pioneers here in Memphis in religious radio, television and other forms of social communication. And we have usually had at least one Paulist based hereout “on the road,” preaching parish missions, retreats, revivals and conferences.
Father Tim Sullivan and I prepare to leave Memphis with incredible memories of the unceasing and vibrant work of the Holy Spirit among its people. Rev. Bruce Nieli is a Paulist evangelist and missionary. He has served as Director for Evangelization for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and as an editorial writer for Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Diocese of Austin.
A: You’re right; not everyone believed in Jesus during His time on Earth, although they saw His miracles and heard His teaching. Many did believe — but others didn’t, and some of them even turned against Him and urged the authorities to put Him to death.