Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Did George Washington Die a Catholic?

Did George Washington Die a Catholic?

There are many inspiring and amazing stories surrounding our first President.  Though certainly not perfect, George Washington was a man of high integrity whose life was filled with remarkable events.

David Barton, founder of WallBuilders, tells the story of when Washington was an English commander during the French and Indian War.  He and his troops were ambushed from both sides while traveling through a canyon.  After the battle Washington found bullet holes through his coat and fragments in his hair, yet he was not touched.

Years later he was visited by an Indian chief who said he had commanded the braves that day, and instructed them to take Washington down since he was clearly the British company’s leader.  However, none of his men could hit Washington and he finally gave them orders to stop trying.  He was visiting our first President so many years later, he said, because he wanted to meet personally the man that God would not let die.

One of the more interesting historical questions about Washington’s life is whether, hours before his death, he converted to Catholicism.  There are those who are skeptical, and it can not be considered an undeniable matter of our nation’s historical record, but the evidence is quite interesting.

The story is that about four hours before his death on December 14, 1799, Washington called for a friend, Jesuit Father Leonard Neale, with whom he spoke and who baptized him into the Faith before he died.

Though critics of this story will cite Washington’s association with Masonry, our first President seems to have been anything but an anti-Catholic.  He was known to read St. Robert Bellarmine and St. Thomas Aquinas, and servants report that he made the Sign of the Cross before meals.  And a picture of the Virgin Mary was reportedly found among his belongings after his death.  He forbade such anti-Catholic practices among his troops as burning an effigy of the pope.  He was friends with the United States’ first bishop, John Carroll, and Pope Leo XIII, who wrote against Freemasonry, praised Washington.

Though we don’t have historical documentation of George Washington’s deathbed baptism, it was a matter of tradition among servants and the local Jesuits.

Was George Washington the first U.S. President to die a Catholic?  At present perhaps we can’t prove it, but the evidence is quite compelling, and it would certainly not be out of character for this American icon.