In his free time, Fr. Watson enjoys walking along the roads wherever he is and exploring. It is interesting to find out how different roads reach and stretch; for example, how Demorest Road begins in a relatively rural area just to the west of Grove City’s downtown but culminates in the very urban Hilltop neighborhood. All these roads are connected, forming a vast network. Everything from the one-and-a-half lane country road I grew up on to immense interstates crossing the entire country. I am reminded of a line from J.R.R. Tolkien’s iconic book Fellowship of the Ring, “He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river; its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary.”
Connections and networks between people are equally important to Fr. Watson. He has lived in Central Ohio his entire life and worked as a pastor for twenty-five years throughout the Columbus area. During those years, he has striven to know all his parishioners—not just their names but who they are. As he explained to me, “A pastor needs to know his sheep.” When meeting someone new he enjoys learning where they are from and who they know, “digging” until he finds some commonality, a point of connection. For me, it was my childhood parish of St. Mary’s Delaware where my parents, my brother, and his family are still members. Fr. Watson not only knew all of them by name but also remembered we are from Ostrander and could even tell me what pew my parents typically favored for Sunday Mass.
Fr. Watson has been a priest for thirty-four years, but his path to the priesthood was not a direct one. During high school and university at Ohio State, he experienced passing thoughts of becoming a priest but was more wanting to climb the corporate ladder to professional success and finding the “girl of his dreams.” After graduating OSU, he worked in the insurance industry for almost nine years and, at that time, thought being a priest was a sign of failure in both business and love. However, the Holy Spirit was even then working to close doors, but open windows in Fr. Watson’s life.
After discussions with the personnel director at Grange Insurance and one of his good friends, Fr. Watson began to consider the priesthood more seriously. As he describes it, there was this constant “nagging and I needed to explore it.” He contacted the vocations director at the diocese, but his path to the priesthood was almost derailed. Due to a series of miscommunications and tragedies, Fr. Watson missed his first two meetings with the vocations director. When they finally did meet it resulted in Fr. Watson being tentatively accepted as a seminarian.
Given his limited exposure to philosophy at Ohio State, Fr. Watson needed to take some philosophy and theology courses at the Pontifical College Josephinum here in Columbus. During this transition period he first met Frs. Colopy and Millisor forging yet another of those precious connections in his life. Fr. Watson would go on to attend seminary at the Theological College in Washington D.C. His ordination as a transitional deacon was slightly delayed but soon thereafter, he was ordained as a priest, along with those same Frs. Colopy and Millisor.
One of Fr. Watson’s first assignments included being chaplain at Bishop Hartley High School in east Columbus. He greatly enjoyed interacting with the students and fondly remembers his own time in high school at Bishop Waterson. While in high school he was on both the baseball and wrestling teams and forming yet more of those connections still remembers that my own high school, Buckeye Valley, fielded excellent baseball teams.
Fr. Watson claims that he does not have a photographic memory, but I am somewhat skeptical of that claim. His ability to recall facts led his high school to ask him to join their In The Know team. This is a televised quiz show for high schoolers hosted by WOSU with subjects ranging from science to visual arts. With his assistance, their team made it to the finals but was eventually bested by Upper Arlington and had to settle for second place. Having researched In The Know after learning about it the past few days, our diocese has been very well represented with Bishop Waterson, St. Charles, and Fisher Catholic in Lancaster routinely being semi-finalists, runner up, or champions.
In addition to his various pastoral duties over the years, Fr. Watson has been a member of what he terms the “invocation circuit.” This involves offering opening invocations at various meetings such as the Columbus City Council, Earl Bruce Touchdown Club, and other civic and government organizations. He enjoys these activities as it lets him form yet more connections with yet more people he might have otherwise not had the chance to meet.
Beyond the pastoral duties of a priest, Fr. Watson embraces the spiritual life of his vocation. He expressed a great deal of comfort in knowing that he is doing exactly what God has intended him to do and is living his life in a sacramental way. As with all of us, he contemplates his eternal life in the world to come and is always working towards his own salvation in addition to helping shepherd his parishioners towards theirs.
Our parish has previously enjoyed long and stable tenures of pastors and associate pastors until our recent upheavals. While that can be beneficial, it also has the risk of leading all of us towards thinking inside a bubble, where everyone starts having the same opinion. Given that I asked Fr. Watson, someone new to our parish, what his initial impressions were. He immediately answered with “down to earth,” “laid back,” and “accepting.” He also stated this is a well-managed parish and has been easy to step into. Fr. Watson also wants all of us to know that he is approachable, although he does warn that he often “speaks in puns.”
Given that he originally considered being a priest a losing proposition, I asked Fr. Watson how he considers it now after over three decades in the priesthood. He originally considered priests to be “the left-out losers in life.” Now he realizes they are in the center of the lives of the parishioners they have formed connections with.
It seems our lives go through stages and Fr. Watson’s is at the stage where he is conducting funerals for people he has known for a lifetime. He said, “It is a blessing of a priest to be a familiar face.” For the persons he has shepherded through the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Matrimony, and Anointing of the Sick, Fr. Watson has been that familiar face.
When not walking our local roads or ministering to Our Lady, Fr. Watson is what he describes as a “bogey golfer,” allowing him to exercise and socialize simultaneously. Being a priest has also allowed him to play every course in the Columbus area. While years removed from playing baseball and wrestling, he maintains a strong interest in sports and is equally conversant with the leadership change at the Cleveland Browns and Joe Burrow’s recent injury as the Cincinnati Bengal’s rookie quarterback. I somewhat suspect memorizing sports statistics at a young age helped to gift him with that memory and recollection.
Fr. Watson expressed an affinity for St. Andrew the Apostle, his chosen confirmation name, and I have to agree with him. “One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, ‘So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Ce’phas’ (which means Peter.)” (Jn 1:40 – 42)
As Andrew introduced Peter to Christ, Fr. Watson and his connections are ready to introduce all of us to each other and to our Risen Lord.
Not bad for a loser priest.