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Feasts of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More kick off Religious Freedom Week

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During Religious Freedom Week, June 22-29, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will focus on the topic, “Serving Others in God’s Love.”


Two saints — St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher — were martyred for their opposition to King Henry VIII of England. Through their resistance, they stood up for the sanctity of marriage and freedom of the church. Their feast day, June 22, serves as the start of Religious Freedom Week, formerly known as Fortnight for Freedom. The two saints were faithful to their country, yet more faithful to the church.


St. Thomas More


St. Thomas More, along with St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, is the patron of the Diocese of Arlington. He was born Feb. 7, 1478, to Sir John More and his first wife, Agnes Graunger. He had two brothers and three sisters, but three siblings died within a year of their birth.


More attended St. Anthony School in London and became a household page to John Morton, the archbishop of Canterbury and lord chancellor of England. More entered Oxford in 1492 where he learned Latin and Greek. He became a lawyer in London in 1502.


Between 1503 and 1504, More lived next to a Carthusian monastery and contemplated the religious life. He remained in the secular world and married his first wife, Jane Colt, in 1505. They had four children before her death in 1511. He remarried to Alice Harpur Middleton, a wealthy widow.
He represented the region of Great Yarmouth in 1504 at Parliament and represented London in 1510. He became a privy counselor in 1514.


He wrote Utopia, considered to be one of the greatest works of the late Renaissance. He was knighted by Henry VIII in 1521 and was named under-treasurer of the Exchequer, the national or royal treasury. He kept being promoted and eventually became lord chancellor in 1529. He prosecuted those accused of heresy and defended the Catholic faith in England. He stopped working for Henry VIII in 1532 following the king’s divorce and request for an annulment.


More was locked in the Tower of London in 1534 after refusing to acknowledge Henry VIII as head of the church. He was tried July 1, 1534, and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered for treason. Henry VIII commuted his punishment to decapitation instead July 6, 1535.  He was buried in an unmarked grave in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London.


More was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886 and canonized by Pope Pius XI May 19, 1935.


He is the patron saint of adopted children, lawyers, civil servants, politicians and difficult marriages.


St. John Fisher


St. John Fisher was born in 1469, in Beverly, Yorkshire, England, the oldest son of Robert and Agnes Fisher.


He was ordained a priest at 22. He held several offices over the years — chaplain to a king’s mother, vice chancellor and chancellor of Cambridge; bishop of Rochester. He is said to have tutored Henry VIII when he was a child.


While at Cambridge, Fisher helped Lady Margaret Beaufort found St. John’s and Christ’s Colleges, as well as two “Lady Margaret” professorships of divinity at Oxford University and Cambridge. He was the first occupant of the Cambridge chair.


Fisher served as counselor to Catherine of Aragon during King Henry VIII’s divorce proceedings against her and publicly opposed the king. Weeks after Fisher was named a cardinal, King Henry VIII ordered him beheaded June 22, 1535, on Tower Hill.


He was canonized by Pope Pius XI May 19, 1935.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018