Father Joseph P. Bodfish, C.S.P. (1839 – 1930)

March 14, 2008

Father Bodfish came to the Paulists by the same path traveled by the first Paulists. Born to a prominent New England family, Father Bodfish was the son of an orthodox Puritan who could trace his family’s ancestry in this country back to 1630. In the tradition of his father and grandfather, Father Bodfish went to sea in his teens, traveling to Africa, China, Japan, and the Holy Land. When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, Father Bodfish enlisted with the Navy, serving as a navigator on The Montgomery and the flagship The Niagra. After leaving the service, he returned to complete his studies at Brown University. Upon graduation, he entered the Episcopal Theological Seminary and he was ordained an Episcopal priest.

During this period, Father Bodfish became interested in the writings of John Henry Newman and the Oxford Movement. His conversion to Catholicism followed soon after and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1866. He joined the Paulist Fathers that same year and was immediately sent out on the mission circuit where he labored for the next 10 years. He would be one of the six Paulists sent to give the first missions in California in 1875.

In 1876 Father Bodfish decided to leave the Paulists and return to his home diocese of Boston. His career in Boston would be a long and distinguished one. From 1881-1886 he served as secretary and chancellor for Archbishop Williams. In 1888 he was appointed pastor of St. John’s Parish in the neighboring community of Canton where he remained for the next 21 years until his retirement in 1909. He brought strong leadership to this community of immigrants and early generation Irish laborers. During his tenure he built a school and rectory and brought electricity and a new heating system to both the church and school. He promoted ecumenical relations with area churches and in 1894 was a guest lecturer at a gathering of Protestants in Boston. This occasion would represent the first instance in New England where a Catholic priest attended a Congregational Church meeting. He would remain a popular ecumenical leader for the rest of his career.

After his retirement in 1909, Father Bodfish moved to Pasadena, California, at the age of 69. He soon became involved with his local parish and played an active role in part-time parish activities as long as he was physically able. He died one month short of his ninety-first birthday, February 25, 1930.