This past week I heard from two separate priests that George Washington, the Revolutionary War general and first US President who is called the “Father of Our Country”, purportedly called for a Catholic priest as he lay dying and that a Jesuit came and converted him to Catholicism on his deathbed. Since I had never heard of this before, and the priests in question, while good and holy men, have been known to say some incorrect or just a wee bit biased things about historical figures, I looked this up myself.
Apparently there is a story supported by some historical sources that Washington called for a priest on his deathbed and someone fetched a Jesuit from their mission in Maryland right across the river from Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, who proceeded to hear Washington’s confession and conditionally baptize him into the Roman Catholic Church. Some say the Jesuit was Fr. Leonard Neale, the first bishop ordained in US, who became Archbishop of Baltimore and President of Georgetown. However, a Catholic historian of the late 1800s, Martin I.J. Griffin, concluded that the story was probably not true. Many other historical sources on Washington say he didn’t practice much religion, describe him as either a very lukewarm Anglican or a Deist, and say he did not call for any sort of priest or minister when dying. He had four Protestant ministers officiate his funeral, but of course, in those days Catholicism was not well regarded in Virginia, so any sort of deathbed conversion would have been kept quiet, and Washington’s family would not have been calling up the Jesuits to send a priest over from Maryland (where Catholics were more tolerated) for the funeral.
I’m curious as to whether there are any other historians, as in reputable scholars and biographers, who’ve looked at this since Griffin and what they had to say. According to these priests, this is mentioned in some bios of Washington. Someone named Janice Connell has written a whole book on Washington’s spiritual life which contains this story, but it seems to be a self-published work and while it’s apparently an Amazon bestseller, I don’t think I would call it a reliable scholarly source.
As a sidenote, one of the priests also mentioned that George Washington allegedly saw a vision of Mother Mary at Valley Forge. Since this is an unapproved private revelation, I will not post more about it here, except to note that it is indeed listed in the MIracleHunter.com list of “Traditionally Approved” apparitions for the 1700s, if anyone wants to go read more about it there.