Conscience and leadership in the lives of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher – Catholic World Report

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Conscience does not act in isolation on some sort of personal or individual intuition disconnected from someone or something else. For a Catholic, a properly formed conscience means to share God’s knowledge and the Church’s teaching about right or wrong.

Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher (CNS composite photo/Public domain)

Editor’s note: The following 2023 Chelsea Lecture was delivered by Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki at Chelsea Academy, in Front Royal, Virginia, on February 7, 2023. 

It is good to be with you to deliver the 2023 Chelsea Lecture here at Chelsea Academy. While some people may associate the name Chelsea with an English professional football—or as we Americans would say, soccer—club based in Fulham, West London, I am sure all of you here know that the Chelsea that really matters was the home of Sir Thomas More and his family. The Chelsea Lecture is described as an annual presentation dedicated to the life, faith, and thought of Saint Thomas More and the spirit and culture that he nurtured in his home and among his friends. So, this evening, in addition to talking about Saint Thomas More, I will also talk about one of his friends. He was a contemporary of Thomas More, and like his famous counterpart, this man is also a model for every Catholic public servant. He is also a model for Catholic bishops and priests. His name is Saint John Fisher.

The title I have given to this 2023 Chelsea Lecture is “Conscience and Leadership in the Lives of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher.” I wish to begin by telling you how Saints Thomas More and John Fisher came to be my personal patron saints.

The date was August 24, 1952, the most important day of my life. Coming just nineteen days after I was born into this world, it was the day on which I was baptized and thereby was born again as an adopted son of God. My parents had me baptized with the names Thomas John. I once asked my parents why they named me Thomas John. My middle name, John, made sense, since my father and my grandfather were named John. But where did the name Thomas come from? My parents gave no profound or historical explanation, saying simply that they liked the name Thomas and they wanted to give me a name that no one else in the family had.

Over the years, I initially presumed that my patron saint was Saint Thomas the Apostle, the first saint to bear that name. As I progressed through my seminary studies, I began to look to Saint Thomas Aquinas for his intercession to help me with my academic pursuits. Later, after I graduated law school and was admitted to the Illinois bar, I began to look more to Saint Thomas More, patron saint of lawyers. When I was named Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1992, Saint Thomas More took on added significance for me since he had served as Lord High Chancellor of England from 1529 to 1532.

Then in 2010 when I was named Bishop of Springfield in Illinois, I asked my Metropolitan Archbishop, the late Francis Cardinal George, what date he was available for him to come to Springfield for my Installation Mass. He looked at his calendar and said that June 22nd would be good for him. Of course, June 22nd is the Memorial of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher. I said that would be perfect! I would be installed as a bishop on the feast day of the patron saint of lawyers as well as that of a renowned bishop, both of whom died as martyrs.


Conscience and leadership in the lives of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher – Catholic World Report

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