Atonement Friars and Sisters

By: Sister Nellie Rooney, O.S.F.

Type: General Entry

Published: November 1, 1994

The Union-That-Nothing-Be-Lost collected alms and dispensed many thousands of dollars to missions, some of them in Texas. It was started as a vehicle for mission work by Fr. Paul James Francis Wattson (born Lewis Thomas Wattson) and Sr. Lurana White, Episcopalians who had founded the Society of the Atonement, a Franciscan order. The friars published a monthly magazine, the Lamp, and the sisters published the Candle. As a move toward Christian unity the leaders of the Friars and the Sisters of the Atonement joined the Catholic Church in 1909, along with a group of lay associates. The first mission house for both the friars and the sisters was St. Anthony's Church in Hereford, Texas, where the pastor, Fr. J. A. Campbell, was struggling to maintain a parish and school. The Atonement nuns conducted St. Anthony's School from 1917 to 1938, then left to devote themselves more exclusively to social services. The friars served as pastors of St. Anthony's Church and its missions from 1920 to 1988. During their tenure they helped develop three other parishes. In addition, St. Ann's in Bovina, founded by Campbell, came under the friars' jurisdiction in 1920. St. Teresa's in Friona was founded through the efforts of Fr. Raymond Gillis, an Atonement friar. Gillis moved to Hereford in 1948 and worked among the migrant laborers in the vegetable fields of the area. His flock lived in the barracks of a former prisoner of war camp. In this setting, dubbed the "Labor Camp," Gillis built a church, school, convent, and clinic. He thus also provided the first Catholic church for nearby Friona. As former migrant families settled down in Hereford, they built a new St. Joseph's Church in the city, and many of the services at the Labor Camp were discontinued. By 1980 St. Joseph's in Hereford was the largest parish in the Catholic Diocese of Amarillo.

While at Hereford, Campbell had founded the first Catholic periodical in the Panhandle. In answer to the Menace, an anti-Catholic paper, the priest began a monthly, the Antidote. He ran the press himself. When the Atonement friars came to Hereford, Father Paul transferred the printing of the Antidote to Graymoor, New York, where it was published alongside the Lamp until 1931. Gillis served as pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Memphis, Texas, from 1977 to 1981, and built an educational and meeting building there.

The Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement opened a house for religious and social services in Sour Lake in 1925. They transferred their center to Dickinson in 1929 in order to serve more people. They closed their mission in Texas in 1946. In 1990 the Friars of the Atonement operated in North and South America, Europe, Jamaica, and Japan. In 1991 one friar, located in Bovina (Diocese of Amarillo), represented the order in Texas.

Sister Nellie Rooney, O.S.F., and Mrs. Edna Reinart, The Society of the Atonement in West Texas, 1917–1988 (Amarillo: Diocese of Amarillo, 1988). St. Anthony's Fiftieth Anniversary, 1922–1972 (Hereford, Texas, 1972).
  • Religion
  • Protestant Episcopal
  • Education

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Sister Nellie Rooney, O.S.F., “Atonement Friars and Sisters,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994