Father Harold P. Paulsen, former pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Palestine, Texas, and chaplain to numerous prisons in East Texas, died on Wednesday. He was 84.
Bishop Joseph E. Strickland will offer the Mass of Christian Burial on Tuesday, March 15 at 11 a.m. at Sacred Heart Church in Palestine; internment will follow at St. Joseph’s Cemetery. A Rosary will be held the previous evening at Bailey and Foster Funeral Home in Palestine beginning at 6 p.m.
“Father Paulsen had a special love for the poor, the hurting and the incarcerated members of the Body of Christ and dedicated his life, especially his later years, to helping those in special need of the Church’s pastoral care,” said Bishop Strickland. “He was truly a missionary of mercy who brought the love of Christ to those in most need of compassion and forgiveness.”
Father Paulsen was born in Boston, Mass., on August 9, 1931. After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Seton Hall University in New Jersey and worked in the oil industry, then as traveling auditor for the U.S. Federal Home Loan Bank Board.
As an adult, he discovered the Catholic Church while enrolled in evening theology courses at Seton Hall when he began reading Catholic classics like Confessions of St. Augustine and Imitation of Christ. His conversion came during his travels across the country as an auditor.
“The world is filled with deceit, empty promises, false expectations and pleasures which don’t yield the happiness, peace and security for which we yearn,” Father Paulsen told the Catholic East Texas in a 2002 interview. “My turning to God and the beginning of my conversion came at age 32…in a hotel room in Topeka, Kansas, where it became very apparent to me that I had been badly deceived. Here I was at last with a good job with which I could easily retire by age 40 and I still felt empty, unfulfilled and very sad.”
After being received into the Church in 1969 at the age of 37, Father Paulsen felt called to the priesthood and in 1973 he resigned from his position with the U.S. Government and entered religious life at a monastery in Missouri. From there, he traveled to Rome where he earned a Bachelor’s in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelicum.
In 1977, Father Paulsen moved to Texas and was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Galveston-Houston on November 19,1978, at St Ann’s Parish in Tomball by Bishop John Morkovsky.
He served as associated pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Galveston from 1978 to 1979, and St. Joseph’s in Baytown from 1979 to 1982.
In 1982, Father Paulsen was assigned to Sacred Heart Parish in Palestine and chose to remain there when the parish became part of the new Diocese of Tyler in 1987. He served as pastor of Sacred Heart until his retirement in 1998.
In retirement, Father Paulsen went into full-time prison ministry for the Diocese and began writing. He ministered to prisoners at some of the largest units in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, including the Coffield Unit, the Michael Unit, the Powledge Unit, and the Gurney Unit.
“The inmates need their Catholic faith more than anything else,” he said. “The stronger their faith, the more undefeatable their hope.”
His first book, Create A New Heart in Me, O Lord: How to Carry the Cross Profitably – A Treasure of Success, was published in 2001. Other works were When I Was in Prison (2003), The Only Way To Peace (2005) and You Visited Me (2010).
Father Paulsen was awarded the Bishop Charles E. Herzig Humanitarian Award in 2015 for his work in prison ministry – he was nominated for the award by incarcerated Catholics at the Powledge Unit .
“He realized that the work he was being drawn to the most was serving those people the world views as useless or of little value, especially those who saw themselves as rejected or unwanted, those who live in places most people don’t even think about, the nursing homes, psychiatric wards and prisons,” wrote Peter Herring, one of the inmates served by Father Paulsen, in the nomination.
“He is driven to help prisoners, ex-convicts, parolees and their families who have been enslaved by sin (crime), to live in hope and to enjoy the only true freedom possible to anyone, which is found in the way of living offered by God in Jesus Christ.”