So, here’s a very interesting rumor, which I’ve now heard from a couple sources.
It is said, among both the Jesuits of Maryland and the descendants of George Washington’s slaves, that in his final hours he sent for Father Leonard Neale, S.J, and that he was received into the Catholic Church shortly before his death.
Now, my initial impression was that this was probably just a pious legend among American Catholics. However, upon reading up on it, there seems to be some fairly good testimony for it. The separate traditions of both the Jesuits and the former slaves (none of the latter were Catholics, by the way, and in fact were said to have been “wailing and weeping” that Rome had gotten Master George at the last) for one, also the documented fact that he had a picture of the Blessed Virgin at Mt. Vernon (something extremely unusual for a Protestant at the time), and testimony that he would make the Sign of the Cross at meals (see here for a selection of the accounts).
Moreover, there’s a clear and cogent reason why it wouldn’t have been better known and more reported: Catholicism was not at all popular in the newly-United States (oh how things change), and very few people would have been keen on accepting the idea that the Father of Our Nation had gone to Rome at the last. Not saying it was ‘covered up’, just that most people would dismiss any rumors to the effect, if they heard them at all.
In any case, we can’t know for sure unless more substantial documentation turns up (or, you know, we get the information first-hand), but it seems at least plausible. And that’s a joyous thing to think.
As anyone who’s been reading lately knows, I don’t think much of the American Revolution, but at the same time I don’t think anyone could deny that George Washington was a truly great man, or that everyone in this nation owes him an incredible debt (not just for leading the war, but moreso, in my view, for managing the aftermath so as to prevent the whole thing from collapsing into anarchy. Having a politically-untouchable, clear-sighted man in charge in a situation like that is absolutely indispensable). The idea that he ended his life in the Church is one that should leave us all joyful, and in hopes that the nation he made will one day join him.
Also, as a side note, my views of Washington are actually beside the point: the news that any soul has turned to Christ and died in the Church should be cause for joy. I’ve heard that Al Capone actually made a final confession and received the last rights, and I hope it’s true, and if I learned that Stalin died repentant and in the Church, I would consider it a cause for celebration (unfortunately, he didn’t). We have absolutely no right to do otherwise.
One thought on “George Washington: Deathbed Convert?”
That’s fascinating! I’d never heard this before. Though considering he thought of Lafayette as a son and worked with several Catholics – during the War and after – perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising. Did you know he actually received a letter from Bishop John Carroll on behalf of all Catholics after his election to the presidency? His response to that letter is here: https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-05-02-0193
The original letter from Bishop Carroll is included below, too. Wow. George Washington may have become a Catholic at the last. :grins: So, so cool!
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