Stained glass, Sacrament of Baptism by Nheyob, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Julian Edmund Tenison Woods was born on 15 November 1832 at Southwark in London, England. His parents, James and Henrietta were of Irish origin, James being a Catholic with marginal commitment to the church and Henrietta coming from the Saint-Eloy Tenison family with strong connections to the Anglican church.

Julian’s birth was announced on 16 November in The Times newspaper for which his father was a correspondent. James, however, was in Belgium at the time of Julian’s birth, reporting on the siege of Antwerp. Before the end of 1832, he returned to West Square, Southwark where Henrietta was caring for their children, Edward, James, Henrietta, Nicholas and baby Julian.

The record held at St George’s Cathedral, Southwark, states that Julian was baptised by Rev John White on 1 February 1833 and his sponsors were John Nowlan and Julia Robertson. There seems to be a question over where the baptism actually took place. Mary MacKillop writes:

Father Woods’ own account of his baptism was as follows: one very cold Saturday night, the priest was in the Chapel waiting for confessions. Mrs Woods – whose home was near – remarked to her husband, ‘How bleak and cold the priest’s room must be’. She suggested that perhaps Fr White would come over and share the warmth of their fireside, while waiting for his penitents. Of course, Mr Woods agreed, and a messenger was sent to the priest.  He accepted the invitation and the kind lady was satisfied.

It seemed that her gentle thoughtfulness for the priest was to bring a special blessing. Her little son lay in his cradle. In the course of conversation the visitor asked his name and age. On hearing that the infant was not yet christened, Father White – having with him all that was needful for the ceremony – offered to baptise him if the mother had no objection. As she was willing, everything was soon arranged. The infant received the names of Julian Edmund Tenison.[i]

Margaret Press, who annotated Mary MacKillop’s life of Julian Tenison Woods, suggests, however, that the baptism probably took place in St George’s and not at home.[ii]

No matter where initiation into the Catholic Church took place, we do know religious practice didn’t play a huge part in Julian’s early years. It was difficult to be a Catholic in Protestant England at that time although saying prayers together was a family tradition and he did attend Anglican Sunday services with his mother. However, he made a full commitment to the Catholic Church at the age of 16 when he chose to receive the sacrament of Confirmation and, from then on, his life was devoted to living out his baptismal identity. Richard Rohr says:

Your ‘baptism’ is that moment when you get it–when you get your life’s purpose, when you get your meaning, when one day you wake up and say, ‘I think I know what I was created for’.Richard Rohr [iii]

There is plenty of evidence from Fr Julian Tenison Woods’ life to suggest that he certainly did ‘get his life’s purpose’ and live out the grace of baptism.

Carmel Jones rsj


[i] Julian Tenison Woods: A Life. Editor Margaret Press. Canonisation edition published in 2010 by St Paul’s Publications Strathfield. First published in 1997 by HarperCollins Religious, page 2/
[ii] Ibid page 2.
[iii] Richard Rohr in his Homily for 12 January 2014