Brother John Atkinson was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, England, on 11 November 1835 in an Anglican family, a ‘Puseyite’. (His gravestone gives his year of birth as 1833.) He was sacristan in the Anglican church of Saint Saviour’s Leeds and one of a group of Anglicans who were received into full communion with the Catholic Church by Dr. Henry Newman on 2 April 1851 in Saint Anne’s Catholic Church, Leeds.
Still only 17 years of age he began his novitiate on 30 April 1853 in Sicklinghall as a Brother. Father Donat Michaux, Master of Novices, wrote the Founder on 30 August in the same year: “Brother Atkinson, quite good health, small in stature, stooped but not deformed; character very good, quite pious, a good novice, quite intelligent; he is our cook, he does the job well.”
The Brother made his vows for 1 year on 20 May 1854. “Fr. Egan preached an appropriate sermon and the scholastic Brothers sang properly the Canticle of Oblation: Mon Dieu je renonce à la terre in full parts,” we read in the house Codex, “B. John left Lys Marie for the house of Liverpool…” Again his oblation for five years is noted on 19 May 1855. Not recorded there is his final oblation on 31 May 1859, but it is recorded in the obituary of Father Gilligan by Father Fabre. Brother John’s vows, and those of seven other Oblates, were received by Father W. Bennett. Father Fabre remarks: “It was the Feast of Our Lady of Graces… Up to now all the children adopted by the Blessed Virgin on this beautiful day have generously and faithfully persevered.” Brother John proved to be both generous and faithful.
Brother John is not among those mentioned by the Founder by name in his correspondence at the time of his visit to the Province in 1857. They will however have met. The Personnel of 1862 and 1867 place him in Leith, a newly opened Oblate mission at that time. By 1871 he is one of the large community in Saint Kevin’s Reformatory, Glencree, Ireland. There he died 28 November 1872, shortly after his thirty-seventh birthday. He had been suffering from asthma for some time. He was the first Oblate to be buried in the churchyard in Glencree where his grave can still be visited.
Sources and Bibliography
G. A,: final oblation formula, 31 May 1859
Codex historicus Lys Marie, Sicklinghall, 1852-1866.
Cooke, Robert, o.m.i., Sketches of the Life of Mgr. De Mazenod, edited by Thomas Dawson, Dublin, 1914, pp. 173, 174.
Denny, Vincent, o.m.i., Reaching Out, Dublin 1991, p. 65.
Fabre, Joseph., o.m.i., “Le frère Jean Atkinson”. Circulaire No. 64, September 25 1873, in Notices nécrologiques OMI, Vol. II, Paris, 1869-1874, pp. 372-380.