In the same year as the ratification of the American Constitution, 1789, a small book appeared. Originally published in London, it was re-printed in Boston (with anti-Catholic footnotes added by the publisher). Here is the opening paragraph …
The public papers have already announced the conversion of a Protestant minister converted to Rome. I am that man…
The author was John Thayer. This book is available here.
Born in May 1758 to a prosperous family in Boston. He lived within easy walking distance of all of the major events of the opening events of the American Revolution.
He was 7 when the Stamp Act was passed and a mob attacked a neighbor’s house.
He was 10 when John Hancock had a sloop captured by Boston warships in Boston harbor, for illegally importing wine without paying duties.
He grew up for the next few years in the midst of the events of the Revolution. The death of his mother led to a deep reexamination of his life.
Eventually ending up in a then-new Yale, where he began to study classical languages, theology, and so forth.
Yale was closed periodically due to the effects of the war. Two months after he turned 18 the Declaration of Independence was signed and released (July 4, 1776).
In July of 1778 (at the age of 20) he was back in Boston and joined a congregationalist church. During his senior year, a British fleet came to attack New Haven. Eventually New Haven, CT was taken by the British, who then plundered the town and its inhabitants.
In Sept 1779 he was given his bachelor’s degree, in private (due to the war).
He then became a Congregationalist preacher, but there are no real records of his ordination.
Then in January of 1779 he enlisted as a private in a company commanded by John Hancock. He served for 7 months, during which time the British captured Charlestown and its 5400 man garrison.
He became a chaplain, and in that capacity he was likely first exposed to Catholicism (through the French soldiers and priests who visited the military facilities).
After the war, he decided to travel and become more educated. In these travels he went to both France and England … while the war was still in progress!
This with an obvious, American accent.
During this time he was asked to preach before an English Congregationalist church, which did not go well. He later wrote that demonstrated the clear need for a central authority.
Then he travelled to Italy, and in doing so was stunned by the hospitality that he received from both French and Italian Catholics. This warmed his heart to Catholicism, so he began to study.
<insert the key points of his conversion from his own account, pages 5 to 17+)>
Listening to the account it is stunning – clear in its expression, naked in its honesty. Here’s one little snippet from the penultimate act of his conversion.
I wished to be enlightened, yet feared being too much so.
The remainder of his life he became a very active missionary to America. In time Fr. Thayer returned to Europe and spent his time ministering to the poor in London.
In his will he left $10,000 which led to the establishment of the first Ursuline Convent in MA, which was eventually burnt down by an angry mob.
Much of his life as a priest was controversial – some biographers considered him nearly a saint; others a scoundrel.
Marcus is working on a new book about Fr. Thayer, which looks to be in very early manuscript form (mostly still notes).
He finishes by asking us to pray for the intercession of Fr. John Thayer for the Coming Home Network.
Another account of Fr. Thayer’s conversion can be found here.