Though the timing for such causes is often mysterious, if the stars align just right, there could be a new American saint soon.
On March 9, 2017, documentation and artifacts accompanying them were packed up and shipped off to Rome where they will now be considered by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, as the diocesan phase of the cause concluded in late July.
If Father Paul James Wattson, also known as Father Paul of Graymoor, is indeed to be canonized, the life story of the new saint will include the unusual twist of his having been a convert to Catholicism.
Born Lewis Thomas Wattson in 1863, his father himself converted to the Episcopal church and was expelled from its General Seminary because he was suspected of being a “secret Jesuit,” given the influence the writings of John Henry Newman, another convert to Catholicism, had on him.
(For the record, Newman was not a Jesuit.)
Wattson became an Episcopal priest, and, together with an Episcopal religious sister, founded the Society of the Atonement at Graymoor at which time he took the name Paul. His new religious order had an emphasis on Christian unity and serving the poor like the Franciscans. Both he and the order’s co-founder, Mother Lurana Mary, decided to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, and he was ordained a Catholic priest in 1910.
A press release from Graymoor states that the order “became the first religious community to be received corporately into the Catholic Church since the Reformation.”
Wattson was a tireless worker for the poor and homeless, but his focus on Christian unity eventually became the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity celebrated each January. He also had a keen interest in dialogue with both Jews and Muslims.
Graymoor’s work on Christian unity may be what he is best known for, but his work on behalf of the poor and homeless, and especially those with substance abuse problems, is something that those who carry on his legacy celebrate equally.
Father Brian F. Terry, the 12th Minister General of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, is among them.
“The many challenges God’s people face today–conflicts, wars, disease, addictions, homelessness, are the same things that Fr. Paul prayed for and worked to resolve,” he said.
When asked what this movement towards canonization means to him, Ken Singleton, who works with the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement in Garrison, NY, where the order was founded, said, “Fr. Paul’s calling was to the Atonement of Christ. Fr Paul interpreted that as “at-one-ment” – to make all things unified in Christ.
“This charism of Fr Paul’s grabbed my attention, and entered deeply into my spiritual life some 29 years ago when I first encountered it and the Friars of the Atonement,” Singleton said. “Fr. Paul’s cause moving forward affirms my deep personal association with the Friars of the Atonement, and enriches and affirms my own spirituality which strives to be “at-one” with myself, my God and with others.”
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York issued the decree which opened the cause for the canonization of Graymoor in 2015. The process now shifts to Rome, where the Congregation for the Causes of Saints never issues projected timetables for bringing things to conclusion.
Wattson’s cause will require one miracle approved by the Vatican for beatification, the penultimate stage before sainthood, and another for canonization.