Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Father and Son: the Wattson's

The father of the founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, whose cause for canonization has begun, was an Anglo-Catholic Tractarian, according to this article:

Grace works in strange ways. The path to sainthood of Fr. Paul Wattson, whose cause for beatification was endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops last week, may have begun with a practical joke one fateful day in 1844.

On that day Wattson’s father, Joseph Wattson, was kicked out of an Anglican seminary for joking that he was secretly a Jesuit.

The General Theological Seminary in New York City was cracking down on anything that smacked of “Popery,” including the reading of the extremely popular tracts of John Henry Newman, which called for a return to the more liturgical traditions of the past (sic).

When the elder Wattson suggested in jest that he was perhaps a “Jesuit in disguise,” he was expelled and, his career options now limited, consigned to life as a poor rural preacher.

According to, Wattson’s father was fond of telling the story to his sons. Perhaps it instilled a desire for reconciliation within his son, because throughout his life, Father Wattson, born Lewis Thomas Wattson in 1863, never wavered from his desire to join reunite the Episcopal and Anglican Church to the Catholic Church of Rome.

The article provides more detail about the crisis in the Anglican seminary brought about by the Tracts for the Times:

The “General” — as the seminary was known — was far too Protestant to welcome the Catholic nature of the tracts; they were forbidden literature to the students. Of course, they were smuggled into the place and eagerly read and discussed. Rumor had it that there were a number of “Jesuits in disguise” who had infiltrated the school and were subverting the students with the Popish literature. Young Joseph Wattson, who was a bit of a practical joker, led one of the more rabidly anti-Catholic seminarians to believe that he (Wattson) just might be one of those infiltrators. The matter was reported to the Dean and poor Wattson and another student were expelled, even though they were exonerated of being “secret Jesuits.” The Oxford tracts were causing such a stir in Anglican circles, that any hint of “Romish tendencies” put the seminarian on the suspect list. Not surprisingly, this incident haunted Joseph Wattson for the greater part of his ministerial career with the Anglicans, and the only pastoral positions he was able to find were in poverty-stricken areas.

On the other hand, the fate of some of his colleagues at the “General” who did “go to Rome” was anything but prejudicial. Edgar P. Wadhams, for example, sometime after his ordination and priestly ministry, became the founding bishop of Ogdensburg, New York, and Clarence E. Walworth befriended Father Isaac Hecker and became one of the original fathers of the Paulists, an order founded by Father Hecker after he was expelled from the Redemptorists. James A. McMaster, another Oxford convert, entered the Redemptorists, but concluded that he did not have a vocation to the religious life. Instead he became an outstanding figure in Catholic journalism, founding the New York Freeman’s Journal, one of the important Catholic American newspapers of the time. One cannot help but wonder what would have happened had the elder Wattson “poped” at the time of his expulsion from the seminary

While the father did not "pope", the son did, eventually, as clergyman Paul Wattson sought to create more "Catholic" structures in the Episcopalian Church, and began to argue for corporate reunion of the Church of England with the Catholic Church. It's quite a story!

No comments:

Post a Comment