Paulist Fathers to end ministry at UC Berkeley after 117 years — By: Catholic News Agency

Students at the University of California, Berkeley, with the Campanile tower in the background. / Credit: cdrin/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Mar 14, 2024 / 15:25 pm (CNA).

After serving at the elite California public university since 1907, the Paulist Fathers announced Wednesday that they will leave the University of California, Berkeley, citing “the changing landscape of the Catholic Church in the United States and the shifting demographics of our own members.”

In a press release, the congregation of missionary priests said they had decided after a “comprehensive discernment process” to return Newman Hall-Holy Spirit Parish, which serves the university’s campus, to the care of the Diocese of Oakland at the end of the academic year. 

They also announced several other staffing changes related to the Paulists’ operations in the U.S., including the closing of several nationwide ministries. 

“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,” said Father René Constanza, Paulist Fathers president. 

“Rooted in hopefulness, we trust that the Holy Spirit is actively breathing life into all things.”

The Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle, today known as the Paulist Fathers, was founded in the 1850s as a congregation dedicated to evangelization in America. The new priestly congregation engaged in parish missions across the country and shared the Gospel with non-Catholics through lectures. 

The Paulists have said in recent months that they are in the process of discerning which ministries they can continue to support in light of a continually shrinking and aging population of priests. 

An undated message on the Paulists’ website states that the current trajectory of priestly numbers in their congregation is “not sustainable.” Just 50 Paulist priests are in active ministry today, the letter says, down from 98 in 2004. Of those 50 priests, almost two-thirds are in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. By 2034, the current trajectory suggests there will be only 31 active Paulists.

The congregation’s March 13 statement announced that similar to UC Berkeley, the Paulist presence at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, will conclude “in the coming months.”

In addition, three distinct ministries of the Paulists — 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 — “will cease operations as distinct apostolic endeavors of the Paulist Fathers” at the end of this year. 

“These three ministries began as a response to the signs of the times in 1970s and 1980s with the establishment of national offices that served the Church well for decades,” Constanza said. 

“We underscore that these three key parts of our mission will continue, and many of the particular programs and offerings created by these national offices will remain available through other means.”

Three of the Paulists’ main media ministries — Paulist Press, Paulist Productions, and Busted Halo — will continue, the congregation said.  

The Paulists also announced that three communities served by the society — Immaculate Conception Church in Knoxville, Tennessee; Old St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco; and the Paulist Center in Boston — will transition from being staffed by two full-time, active Paulist priests to being served by one full-time priest, assisted by local Paulists in senior ministry. 

The Paulist Fathers’ founder, Father Isaac Hecker, took a step toward sainthood late last year when the U.S. bishops voted to advance his cause. Hecker’s cause for canonization had been formally opened in 2008. 

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