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

Lewis Thomas Wattson was born in Millington, Maryland January 16, 1863 to the Reverend Joseph Newton Wattson and his wife, Mary Electa. Reverend Wattson, a former Presbyterian, was an Episcopalian minister. Lewis received his B.A. (1882) and his M.A. (1885) from St. Stephen's College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. He was ordained to the diaconate in 1885, and by special dispensation, at the age of twenty-three, he was made a presbyter. Wattson was graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity from the General Theological Seminary in New York City in 1887. After serving for a time in Port Deposit, Maryland, he became a popular preacher in the New York and New Jersey area and became rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Kingston, New York. In 1891, he established the Church of the Holy Cross Church as a mission of St. John's, to serve working-class families living near the West Shore Railroad.[1] Holy Cross had a more Anglo-Catholic tradition and a particular mission to the poor.[2] Rev. Wattson resigned the rectorship in Kingston to accept a position as superior of an Episcopal mission in Omaha.[3]

Lurana Mary White

Lurana White

Lurana Mary White was born in New York City on April 12, 1870. On Oct. 17, 1894 she became a postulant in the Episcopal community of the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus in Albany, New York, where she made her vows on Sept. 25, 1896. That same year, White began corresponding with Rev. Wattson,[4] whom she had heard was "very High Church".[5] Wattson was at the time the superior of a small community of Episcopal priests in Omaha. 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. Sister Lurana 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 at her family's home in Warwick, New York 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.) To this end, Sister Lurana spent a year in training with the Society of the Sisters of Bethany in Clerkenwell, London. Before her return, she made a pilgrimage to Assisi.[3]

St. John's in the Wilderness

Rev. Albert Zabriskie Gray, rector of St. Philip's Church in the Highlands in Garrison, New York, was already serving St. James' Chapel at Highlands and the Chemical Works on the border with Westchester when he erected the mission Chapel of St. John's in the Wilderness in the southeastern portion of the parish.[6] In 1882, Gray left Garrison to take a position at Racine College.

Episcopalian establishment

On December 15, 1898, Sister Lurana 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,[4] 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

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,[7] 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,[7] 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

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. [8]

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 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. In March 2017, closed the diocesan phase of the process, forwarding Wattson's collected writings to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome.[7]


  1. ^ Murphy, Patricia O'Reilly. Kingston, Arcadia Publishing, 2013, p. 67ISBN 9780738598260
  2. ^ "History", Holy Cross Church
  3. ^ a b Allen, Hugh Anthony. "The Society of the Atonement", The Month, Vol. 128, 1916Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  4. ^ a b "White, Lurana Mary", The Episcopal Church
  5. ^ Puglisi, S.A., James. "Historical Profile: Founder of the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity", L'Osservatore Romano, April 2, 2008
  6. ^ Chorley, E. Clowes. History of St. Philip's church in the Highlands, New York. Edwin S. Gorham, 1912, p. 249((PD-notice))
  7. ^ a b c Pietrafesa, Dan. "Archdiocese Closes Cause for Atonement Society Founder", Catholic New York, March 15, 2017
  8. ^ Atonement Website: Parishes