Society of the Atonement

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The Society of the Atonement, also known as the Friars and Sisters of the Atonement or Graymoor Friars and Sisters is a Franciscan religious congregation in the Latin Rite branch of the Catholic Church. The friars and sisters were founded in 1898 as a religious community in the Episcopal Church. The religious order is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the Marian title of Our Lady of Atonement.


Lewis T. Wattson[edit]

Lewis Thomas Wattson was born in Maryland in January 1863 to the Reverend Joseph Newton Wattson and his wife, Mary Electa. Reverend Wattson, a former Presbyterian, was an Episcopalian minister. Lewis was graduated from the General Theological Seminary in New York City in 1885. He became a popular preacher in the New York and New Jersey area. By special dispensation, at the age of twenty-three, he was made a presbyter.

Episcopalian establishment[edit]

Lurana White

In late 1895, Lurana White, then a novice in a religious community of women known as The Episcopal Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, made contact with the Rev. Lewis Wattson, the superior of a small community of Episcopal priests. Both were part of the Anglo-Catholic Movement, also known as the Oxford Movement, which had developed in the Church of England in the early 19th century. Miss White asked Father Wattson's help in finding an Episcopal community of religious which practised corporate poverty in the Catholic Franciscan tradition. Father Wattson was unaware of any such community, but began corresponding with her regarding his desire to see the Anglican and Catholic Churches reunited under the leadership of the Bishop of Rome.

In October 1898, White and Wattson met and made a spiritual covenant to form a new religious community with the aim of re-establishing Franciscan life in the Anglican Communion. The name of the new community was inspired by a passage in the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 5:11), which, in the King James Version of the Bible, speaks of the atonement Christians have received through Jesus. Wattson chose to interpret the word "atonement" in the literal sense of "at-one-ment," out of his vision that his new community should have the aim of leading all Christians to unity (oneness) with one another.

On December 15, 1898, Miss White and two companions took up residence in the area of Garrison, New York, at a farmhouse known as Graymoor, near the abandoned chapel of St. John's-in-the-Wilderness. Father Wattson joined them in the spring of 1899. With the formal establishment of the Society of the Atonement, they embraced religious life in the Episcopal Church. In taking religious vows, Miss White became known as Mother Lurana, while Father Wattson took the name of Father Paul James Francis. Mother Lurana became head of the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement, the women's branch of the society; Father Paul became superior of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement. Frederick Joseph Kinsman, third Bishop of Delaware, was chosen as Episcopal Visitor.

The Society preached the primacy of the Roman pontiff, while keeping its Episcopal allegiance, as they worked to realize a corporate reunion between the two bodies. Due to this, the founders and their small number of disciples came to find themselves not only criticised but ostracised by their co-religionists, who saw them as walking an impossible tightrope between the two bodies.

Reception into the Catholic Church[edit]

In 1909 both the men's and women's societies chose to seek union with the Holy See and full membership in the Catholic Church. In October 1909, the Vatican took the unprecedented step of accepting the members of the Society as a corporate body, allowing the Friars and Sisters to remain in their established way of life.

Now in union with the Bishop of Rome, the Friars of the Atonement continued their work of advocating the reconciliation and eventual reunion of the various Christian denominations with the Pope as spiritual leader, known as ecumenism. A major part of this effort was the Octave of Christian Unity, an eight-day period of prayer for the various segments of Christianity. The Octave runs January 18–25, starting on the date that—at the time—marked the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter at Rome, and ending on the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. This period is now known as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and is celebrated by many Christian denominations.

Present-day activities[edit]

The friars continue their focus on ecumenical work. In this many serve as resource people to dioceses throughout the world. Their motherhouse continues to be at Graymoor in the United States, but they have houses in Brazil, Canada, Italy, Japan, and the Philippines. One has closed in recent years in the United Kingdom. As well as running parishes in the United States, the Friars are engaged in ministry to those in prison, in hospital and in nursing homes. [1]

The Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement have established catechetical and daycare centers all over North America, serving rural communities throughout the western United States and Canada, as well as inner city locales, such as Harlem in New York City. Several accompanied the Japanese-American communities they served into the forced resettlement conducted during World War II. Today, the Sisters serve in the United States, Canada, Italy, Japan, Brazil and the Philippines.

In England the Friars used to run the Catholic Central Library (now known as the Catholic National Library), situated in the vicinities of Westminster Cathedral, London, before its move to the small town of Farnborough, Hampshire, southwest of London.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York formally opened the Cause for Canonization of Servant of God Father Paul of Graymoor on Tuesday, September 22, 2015 in New York City. The Rev. Paul Wattson, SA, (1863-1940) was founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement and a champion of Christian unity and helping the poor. The Father Paul of Graymoor Guild was established in 2016 as a central information source about the status of the cause for Father Paul of Graymoor's canonization.


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