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Paulist Fathers withdraw from Berkeley as ranks dwindle

UC Berkeley tower

Chao Kusollerschariya | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 03/18/24

Aging members and scant vocations have presented an existential threat to the Paulist Fathers, who expect to number just 31 active priests by 2034.

A lack of incoming vocations to the aging ranks of the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle, also called the Paulist Fathers, has led them to announce their withdrawal from two US universities, as well as closures to several offices. Facing an existential threat of low numbers, the community will put more focus on its media ministries, most notably Paulist Press, a publishing house that traces its roots to the 19th century. 

The Paulist Fathers expressed their sadness that the community will leave UC Berkeley, where they have run the campus ministry since 1907, at the end of the 2024 academic year. Paulist Fathers’ president Fr. René Constanza commented: 

“It is with sadness that we will complete our ministry with the wonderful students, faculty, administrators, staff members, and permanent community members in Berkeley after 117 years,” said Paulist President Fr. René Constanza. “We pray in thanksgiving to God for our long and fruitful ministry with these faithful People of God.”

He went on to explain that the Paulist Fathers believe this is the direction in which the Holy Spirit is calling the community, citing a “changing landscape of the Catholic Church in the United States,” as well as changes to the community’s internal demographics. According to NCR, it is estimated that 62% of Paulist Fathers are above the age of 60. With only 50 priests in active ministry in 2024, the community expects only 31 to remain so by 2034.

Pastoral care for the Newman Hall-Holy Spirit Parish, at UC Berkeley will be ceded to the Diocese of Oakland. Fr. Ivan Tou, the Paulist pastor who currently serves Newman Hall–Holy Spirit Parish, said that “the Paulists will miss the Berkeley community deeply.”

“We have been so blessed by their faithfulness, friendship, and participation. Their ownership and leadership of the faith, resulting in many vibrant lay-led ministries, has given us great hope for the future of the Church.” Father Tou said of his experience at UC Berkeley, “They will always be in our hearts and prayers.”

The Paulist Fathers will also close its campus ministry at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, at the conclusion of the 2024 school year. In addition, Paulist Fathers will close three of their national offices: Paulist Evangelization Ministries; Landings International, a reconciliation ministry with Catholics returning to the Church after a time away; and the Paulist Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations. The press release notes that the programs and offerings of these offices will “remain available through other means.”

Furthermore, three worshiping communities tended by the Paulist Fathers will transition from being staffed by two full-time Paulist priests to just one. Immaculate Conception Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, Old St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco, California, and the Paulist Center in Boston, Massachusetts, will all see the number of serving priests shrink, but there will be support from Paulists in senior ministry. 

With fewer Paulist priests, the community will focus its efforts of evangelization on its three media ministries: Paulist Press, Paulist Productions, and Busted Halo. These Fr. Constanza called the “key expressions of our mission to the United States and around the world.”

“At Paulist Productions and Busted Halo, Paulist priests will remain in leadership roles. At Paulist Press, we will conduct a national search for a new leader to serve as President / Publisher to carry forward the vision and legacy of our founder, Servant of God Isaac Hecker, who began our publishing arm in 1865,” Father Constanza shared in the presser. “The Paulist Fathers remain committed to sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with missionary zeal, especially with people beyond the Church walls and with Catholics who feel apart from the Church.”

MinistriesPriestsUnited StatesVocations
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