Archbishop Donald Bolen is highly familiar with the work of Servant of God Father Paul Wattson, SA, the founder of the Society of the Atonement.

His Eminence has worked in Rome at the Pontifical Council for promoting Christian unity, and once served on the international committee for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Archbishop Bolen has long been an advocate of Jesus’ prayer “that all may be one” and he delivered the message of unity in his presentation at this year’s Father Paul Lecture, sponsored by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement.

The annual Father Paul Lecture took place on Monday, October 10 at the James and Catherine Denny Center at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. The theme of this year’s lecture was “The Intersection Between Ecumenism and Justice.”

About 20 people attended in person while 200 tuned in virtually from across the world.

“We had good engagement,” said Father Jim Loughran, SA, Vicar General and Director of the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute. “It was great, it was a great audience. It went very well.”

Bolen, who oversees the Diocese of Regina in Saskatchewan as Archbishop, put a personal touch on his talk. He spoke about how the Church in Canada is assisting with the process of reconciliation with indigenous peoples.

Through parts of the 19th and 20th centuries, more than 150,000 indigenous children were separated from their families and brought to residential schools. Some Christian Churches ran these schools, where the children were neglected and abused.

This past summer, Pope Francis issued an apology to the indigenous peoples for the Church’s role in the cruelty that took place. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was also set up to investigate the wrongdoing, and Archbishop Bolen was heavily involved in responding to the commission’s calls to action.

“He decided to make it very personal; do a very personal reflection on how the Church in Canada, how his Diocese, is assisting in the process of reconciliation with indigenous peoples,” Father Jim explained. “He (Bolen) went into great detail about how you do this ecumenically, how all the Churches need to be involved in the work of reconciliation.”

The Father Paul Wattson Lecture series features national and international leaders in the fields of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue who speak on current topics of interest. Initiated in 1974 at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., the series was expanded in 1980 to the University of San Francisco.

In 1995, the lecture series reached the Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, and in 1996, the Toronto School of Theology. In 1998, it was added to the ministry of the Friars at their Centro Pro Unione in Rome to honor not only Father Paul, but also Mother Lurana White, SA, founder of the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement. In 2017, the first Paul Wattson Lecture in Chicago took place at the Catholic Theological Union.

Father Jim said the tradition will continue next year, as another Father Paul Lecture is planned for 2023.