Finding Brother Christopher

| 15 Feb 2012 | 08:52

Radio program to examine the life of the Warwick woman who helped found a renown rehabilitation center, By Roger Gavan WARWICK — In 1870, a baby girl was born into a wealthy Protestant family in the Village of Warwick. She would grow up to become the foundress of the Catholic Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement at Graymoor, the homeless shelter in Putnam County dedicated to helping men in crisis. And the house where she was born and raised once sat on the site now home to Country Chevrolet. On Sept. 12, that woman, Mother Lurana White, will be the topic of discussion on “Warwick, Then and Now,” the WTBQ radio that focuses on the history of the Warwick Valley. The special guest that day will be Village of Warwick Historian Jean Beattie May, who has researched the life of Mother Lurana and the history of her Warwick home. In Mother Lurana’s biography, “A Woman of Unity” by Sister Mary Celine, S.A., we learn that her father, Francis Steele White, was an Episcopalian. Her mother, Annie Mary Wheeler, the daughter of James Benedict and Mary Mills Wheeler, belonged to Warwick’s Dutch Reformed Church where she and Francis White were married in 1869. The couple also had a home in Manhattan and worshiped at Saint Thomas Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue. When Lurana was three years old, she was baptized at Christ Episcopal Church in Warwick. Petitioning the Vatican Lurana White was devoted to her church and at age 14 she became a postulant with the Anglican Sisters of the Holy Child. A year later she corresponded with Rev. Lewis Wattson, the superior of a small community of Episcopal priests in Omaha and asked his help in finding an Episcopal religious community where, unlike the Sisters of the Holy Child, members took a vow of poverty. Then, in the fall of 1898, White and Wattson, who was of like mind, met at the Hermitage, her home in Warwick. They decided that they should form a new Anglican religious community based on the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi. Later that same year White and two companions moved to a farmhouse known as Graymoor in Garrison. Wattson joined them in the spring of 1899. It was there that they established the Society of the Atonement, as an Episcopal religious community. Mother Lurana became head of the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement and Wattson, then known as Father Paul, became superior of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement. In 1909 both societies petitioned Rome to seek union with the Holy See and membership for all their members in the Roman Catholic Church. In an out-of-the ordinary decision, the Vatican accepted the members of the Society as a corporate body, allowing both the Friars and Sisters to remain in their well-established communities. Although Graymoor remains the headquarters for both the sisters and the friars, both organizations serve communities throughout the world. It is also home to St. Christopher’s Inn, a temporary homeless shelter dedicated to the rehabilitation of men in crisis. The Hermitage Mother Lurana’s home in Warwick was built on property owned by James Wheeler. Wheeler’s daughter Mary and her husband Francis White subsequently inherited the mansion where they raised Lurana and her sister Annie. The large house, which sat on a hill behind a stone wall along Main Street, was originally named The Terrace. It is also known as The Hermitage. In “The Halcyon Days,” a book of historic Warwick photographs co-authored by Silvio Galterio and Jean May, there is a photograph of The Hermitage taken in the late 1940s. The last owner of the mansion, Fred Cary, sold the property in the early 1950s. After the house was demolished and the hill leveled it became Drew’s Garage and Service Station and in 1982, Country Chevrolet & Olds. Listen On Monday, Sept. 12, The WTBQ radio show, “Warwick, Then and Now," will feature Village of Warwick Historian Jean Beattie May, who will discuss the legacy of Mother Lurana White, who was born in 1870 to a wealthy Warwick family and who would become the foundress of Franciscan Sisters of Atonement at Graymoor in Putnam County. "Warwick, Then and Now," airs every Monday at 1 p.m. and focuses on the history of the Warwick Valley. Betty Hurd and Michael Bertolini, trustees of the Historical Society of the Town of Warwick, are the show's hosts. WTBQ can be found at 1110 on the AM side of the dial and at 93.5 on the FM side.