A look at the life and work of St. Thomas More

Vincentian View

Fr. Patrick J. Griffin, CM, Special to the Torch

St. Thomas More Church sits at the center of our campus. The church serves as both a symbol and a source of the religious values that contribute to our inheritance and our legacy as a university. Within the Church, a beautiful life-size statue of St. More stands.

Robert Bolt’s wonderful play (and then movie) “A Man for All Seasons” offers some idea of the character of Sir Thomas More. This literary title captures his essence as a Christian man of conscience who remained true to himself and his beliefs while adapting to the needs of time and place. During Founder’s Week, our Chappell Players put on an admirable performance of this play.

Born in London in 1476, St. More benefitted from a first-class education to become a lawyer, statesman and Lord Chancellor of England. In this last role, he served Henry VIII. This service ultimately cost him his life when he found himself unable to support his King’s separation of England from the Church of Rome due to a question of marriage. Though loyal to the royal household, St. More would not allow his patriotism to win out over his principles.

St. More also believed in the importance of education. After marriage, he provided for the ongoing education of his beloved wife and he made sure that his daughters, as well as his son, received the best schooling he could provide.  When other nobles of his time saw the success of his daughters, some also began to take a greater interest in the education of all their children.

At St. John’s, we can appreciate the lessons that Thomas More can teach by his words and example. His willingness to adapt to circumstances yet unwillingness to compromise his principles offers a powerful description of what one can hope from a St. John’s graduate. These concepts rest at the heart of morality as well as ethics. They carry weight in law, pharmacy, business and education as well as liberal arts and professional studies. St. More carries the distinction of being the patron of politicians and lawyers. One understands why.

St. More’s insistence upon a universal and well-rounded education also has force. His study included literature, language and music as well as law and statecraft. He saw the benefit of a citizenry to be educated so that all could take part in governance and decision-making.  

Yes, St. More was a brilliant scholar as well as social innovator—he wrote “Utopia”—but first and foremost, he was a man of faith. Our central and dignified worship space (the gift of the Brennan Family) appropriately continues his endowment.

The patron of our Church and the patron of our University—Thomas More and John the Baptist— are widely different in their garments and audiences. Yet, they are true twins in their fidelity to principle, confrontation of power and willingness to surrender their lives for their beliefs. They offer wonderful role models.