Lawton, Edward Thaddeus
The Most Reverend Edward Thaddeus Lawton, O.P., the first bishop to be chosen from the Province of St. Albert the Great, was born in South Boston, Massachussetts, on October 12, 1913. He received his early education in St. Francis de Sales school, Boston College High, and Boston College. He entered the Order at St. Rose Priory, Springfield, Kentucky, and there made profession on August 16, 1937. He made his philosophical studies in the Dominican House of Studies, River Forest, Illinois, and in 1940 was one of four students sent to Washington for his first year of theological studies. He completed them in River Forest and was there ordained on June 6, 1943.
His first assignment was to Fenwick High School, Oak Park, Ill., where he taught until early 1951 when he became one of the first three members of St. Albert’s Province to be sent to its first foreign mission, Lagos in Nigeria, where he arrived on 27 February 1951. While exercising his ministry as a member of the community of St. Dominic’s at Yaba in Lagos, he became director of the Thomistic Institute, lecturing during the academic season both at Yaba and at Holy Cross in Lagos, and giving retreats to priests and religious during the vacation times. He was also archdiocesan director for Catholic radio programs.
He went on leave on 6 October 1953, and on 15 January 1954 the Prefecture of Sokoto was established and he was appointed Prefect Apostolic. He was invested in a ceremony at St. Pius, Chicago, and left on 14 March. Arriving at Yaba on 14 September 1954, he arranged his affairs and went up north, arriving in Gusau and taking charge of the prefecture on 13 November 1954. Gusau was the only residence for missionaries in the 46,000 square miles of the prefecture, whose 1,200 Catholics were scattered among five million inhabitants, the vast majority of whom were Muslims. He carried on his arduous apostolate with one priest of the Society of African Missions until the arrival in 1956 of brethren from St. Albert’s Province and of Dominican Sisters from Great Bend, Kansas.
Msgr. Lawton was a compulsive worker in serving the needs of the people in his prefecture, and was constantly touring, negotiating for building sites, and getting personnel and money. In January 1961 he moved his headquarters from Gusau to Sokoto. He had a hernia operation in Abeokuta on 1 May 1963. While attending the ordination by Archbishop Pignedoli of Anthony Okonkwo as the first priest for the prefecture, in Sokoto on 7 July 1963, Msgr. Lawton suffered a serious heart attack followed by a clot in his leg. Leaving on 11 September 1963 for the U.S. to rest (if that word was possible with him), he returned on 29 February 1964. On 6 June 1964 the prefecture was made a diocese and Msgr. Lawton appointed bishop. He was ordained in Sokoto on 15 August 1964.
To minister to his flock, which had in ten years come to number more than 10,000, he was assisted by fourteen of his Dominican brethren, nine Dominican sisters, and several lay missionaries. Despite his episcopal dignity and his incessant labors and fatiguing journeys, he was faithful to the practices of the common life of his brethren: choral celebration of the Divine Office with conventual Mass, daily meditation, and recitation of the Rosary in common.
As bishop he took part in the remaining sessions of the Second Vatican Council, and because of his collegiate responsibilities was traveling more than ever before to preach and take part in meetings inside Nigeria and beyond. On one such trip, leaving Sokoto for Kaduna on 19 December 1966, he died of a coronary thrombosis in the car, about 20 miles out of Sokoto, moments after completing the recitation of the Rosary with the driver, Brother Thomas Martin, as was customary “for a safe journey.”
Following a concelebrated Pontifical Requiem Mass in Our Lady of Fatima Church, Gusau, the body of the bishop was laid to rest on 20 December 1966 in the Dominican plot of the cemetery adjacent to the Church.
From the “Lives of Deceased Brothers” page on the Web site of the Dominican Friars Province of St. Joseph the Worker (Nigeria and Ghana).
This article is reproduced, with permission, from the “Lives of the Brethren 1964-1969” page on the Web site of Dominican Friars Province of St. Joseph the Worker (Nigeria and Ghana). All rights reserved.