'A Most Excellent Priest: Father George F. Goodwin'
Father George F. Goodwin, whose name appears in several collections within the archdiocesan archive, is a sad story of unfulfilled potential in the early history of the Diocese of Boston.
Father Goodwin was born in Charlestown, Mass., on Dec. 29, 1814. Not much is known of his childhood, though records from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross show that he was the son of John Goodwin and his wife, Mary Goodwin (nee Wellington), and converted to Catholicism on July 18, 1830. He must have shown promise from a young age, as Bishop Benedict Fenwick sent him to the seminary in Montreal to study for the priesthood, and later to finish his studies at the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice in Paris.
Upon his arrival in France, Father Goodwin was welcomed by an older American student and future Bishop of Boston, John Bernard Fitzpatrick, with whom he would remain lifelong friends. Bishop Fitzpatrick had arrived several years earlier, at which time he was the only American out of approximately 200 seminarians, and seemed to take it upon himself to help settle his fellow countrymen in their new home.
In Paris, Father Goodwin enjoyed not only the company of Bishop Fitzpatrick, but Father Nicholas O'Brien, Father Patrick Lyndon, and Father Peter Crudden, all of whom returned to serve in the Diocese of Boston. Perhaps remembering the warm welcome he received from Bishop Fitzpatrick, Father Goodwin seems to have offered the same to new students. Father Lyndon, writing Bishop Fenwick from Paris on Oct. 29, 1841, writes of meeting Fathers Goodwin and O'Brien upon his arrival in Paris, who immediately served as his guide through the city.
Later, this group also befriended a young John Joseph Williams, later Archbishop of Boston. The History of the Archdiocese of Boston comments on Williams' time at the seminary, and "the helpful influences that played upon him there was that of the brilliant group of American fellow students, all considerably older than himself, with whom he was intimately associated." It continues that "these men were, as a group, so exceptionally strong in character and so earnest and intent in the pursuit of their vocation that they may well have done much to develop maturity, forcefulness, and self-reliance in their junior companion."
Correspondence between the Abbe Carriere in Paris and Bishops Fenwick and Fitzpatrick include several remarks about Father Goodwin. They talk about his good behavior, piety, and zeal, qualities they believe would lead him to make great contributions in his service to the Church. Foreshadowing what was to come, there is a brief mention of concern about his health, and it being the only thing which might threaten his career.
The date is uncertain, but Father Goodwin was ordained in Paris in late 1842, or early 1843, and subsequently returned to Boston. The following year, in 1844, he began to serve at St. Mary's Church in Charlestown.
The health issues Abbe Carriere referenced would soon begin to plague Father Goodwin once again, as evident in a letter from Father William Logan, SJ, who wrote Father Goodwin from the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, on Sept. 25, 1846. After remarking on Father Goodwin's effort to participate in each Mass at St. Mary's, Father Logan writes "that's pretty good for a beginner, but you must not let your zeal over step the bounds of prudence. Be very careful of your precious health, and do not retard your permanent recovery over-exertion in your convalescence."
Father Logan ends his letter with the hope that Father Goodwin "be restored to health and enabled to labor years in the vineyard of our Lord, is my sincere wish and shall be my constant prayer." Regretfully, after battling consumption for 14 months, this "young priest who seemed to offer the most brilliant promise" had his life cut short by illness. Father Goodwin passed away on Monday, Sept. 13, 1847, at 4 a.m., at his residence in Charlestown.
It is noted that he spent his final days "constantly watched and cared for by his Bishop (Fitzpatrick), who found in the midst of an exhausting routine of duties many an hour to spend with him." A journal entry by Bishop Fitzpatrick that day describes Father Goodwin as "a most excellent priest, regular, irreproachable, discreet, zealous, full of energy for good and of prudence for government and administration. His ministry which scarcely lasted six years has been abundant in fruits of every kind."
Bishop Fitzpatrick also reflects on his personal loss, writing "the B'p loses in him not only one of his best priests, a most intimate friend long tried and valued." His funeral was held on Wednesday, Sept. 16, and was attended by 150 people. He was interred on the grounds of the College of the Holy Cross as was his wish.
- Thomas Lester is the archivist of the Archdiocese of Boston.