Garrison, NY – On November 11, 2014, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops endorsed the cause for canonization of Father Paul Wattson, SA, Servant of God, founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, at their fall meeting in Baltimore. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York sought the consultation of the American Bishops, which is the first step in the Catholic Church’s canonization process.
Before their vote, the New York Archdiocese’s Auxiliary Bishop John J. O’Hara described the life and ministries of Father Paul, who was born Lewis T. Wattson, the son of an Episcopal priest, and who was himself ordained in 1886. “Father Wattson saw the need for both a Franciscan spirituality in the Episcopal Church and a way to serve the poor,” said Bishop O’Hara. Then, in 1909, the Society of the Atonement became the first religious community to be received corporately into the Catholic Church since the Reformation. Following Bishop O’Hara’s remarks, the Bishops conducted the traditional “voice vote,” which had no opposition. The Bishops’ vote, required by Church norms, indicated their support for the Cause as “pastorally appropriate” for the Church at this time. The next step on the path to sainthood will be a formal opening of the cause in the Archdiocese of New York, and a Postulator will begin collecting Fr. Paul’s writings, testimonies and other documents for review.
Father Paul is remembered for his work with people who suffer from alcohol and drug addiction as well as his world wide ministry in ecumenism. He founded what became the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” in 1908, which the Church still celebrates today. The ministry of At-One-Ment has blossomed to exemplary dialogue within the Christian Church as well as interreligious dialogue with Jews, Muslims and other world religious communities. Fr. Paul’s landmark homeless shelter St. Christopher’s Inn at Graymoor in Garrison, NY, has grown to minister to the marginalized of our society, by offering care to those who suffer from homelessness and substance abuse.
Father Paul was born on January 16, 1863, in Millington, Maryland, to Rev. Joseph Wattson and his wife Mary Electa Wattson. In 1898, twelve years after he was ordained as an Episcopal priest, in collaboration with an Episcopalian nun, Lurana White, he helped to found the Society of the Atonement at Graymoor in Garrison, NY. This new religious order was formed in the tradition of the Franciscans with the mission of promoting Christian unity and working with the poor. In 1908, Father Paul initiated the Church Unity Octave believing that a time set aside for prayer and seminars would hasten Christian unity. Both advocates of corporate reunion between the Anglican and Catholic churches, he and Mother Lurana White made a decision to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church one year later in 1909. Father Paul was ordained a Catholic priest by Archbishop John M. Farley in 1910.
An apostle of Christian unity and charity, Father Paul founded St. Christopher’s Inn, a refuge for homeless and addicted men. He published The Lamp, a monthly magazine devoted to Christian unity and the missions, and he produced “The Ave Maria Hour”, a radio program that broadcasted stories about the life of Christ and the lives of the Saints that was on the air from 1935 to 1969.
In 1903 he founded an organization, the Union-That-Nothing-Be-Lost, to disperse donations to other charitable organizations. He also co-founded the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and was instrumental in helping to launch the Catholic Medical Mission Board.
Fr. Paul Wattson died on February 8, 1940 at Graymoor in Garrison, NY. The Franciscan Friars of the Atonement continue his work toward Christian unity on three continents.
Very Reverend Brian F. Terry, S.A., Minister General of the order of Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, founded by Father Wattson said, “Father Paul was a builder of bridges with outstanding Christian virtues. He was a true Franciscan who loved the poor. He also loved the supreme gift God gave us in atonement, his only Son.”
Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, has said of the contributions of Father Paul Wattson to the Church and the New York Diocese, “The work of the Holy Spirit is evident in Father Paul’s tireless efforts toward Christian unity, support of missionary activity and loving care for those in need that continues today at St. Christopher’s Inn.”
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The Franciscan Friars of the Atonement are a Catholic order of brothers and priests founded in 1898 by Fr. Paul Wattson, S.A., Servant of God, at Graymoor in Garrison. Since that time, the Friars have worked for reconciliation and healing through “at-one-ment” — the unity of men and women with God and with one another — so that the prayer of Jesus “that they all may be one” might be fulfilled. Through their mission and ministries they serve people of every race, religion, and walk of life. Their social ministries help the poor, the needy, and the homeless; people living with HIV; frail and elderly in hospitals and hospices; those in prison; and people seeking recovery from alcoholism and chemical addictions. They are part of the international movement to heal divisions within Christianity and among all faiths through their ecumenical outreach and research Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute, in New York City, Centro Pro Unione in Rome and serving as diocesan ecumenical officers. Since 1945, the friars have been guardians and administrators for Sant’Onofrio al Gianicolo, Rome, the official church of the papal order of The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem . Through their prayers and pastoral ministries, they bring spiritual renewal, unity, harmony, and reconciliation throughout the world and carry the Gospel message to three continents. For more information about the friars, visit atonementfriars.org.