He’s a patron of lawyers and public servants. He’s an example of moral integrity. He’s a saint, a 16th century martyr. But Thomas More’s strong example of fatherhood is often unrecognized and underemphasized.
G.K. Chesterton wrote in 1929 that “Thomas More is more important at this moment than at any moment since his death, even perhaps the great moment of his dying; but he is not quite so important as he will be in about a hundred years’ time. … If there had not happened to be that particular man at that particular moment, the whole of history would have been different.”
This year, the feast day of St. Thomas More falls on the day following Father’s Day. It’s fitting that Knights of Columbus look to him for inspiration as fathers, as leaders of our families and as true servants of God.
Many know about St. Thomas More from the 1966 Academy Award-winning film, A Man for All Seasons, which highlights the last days of his life and his strong commitment to the God-given authority of the Church. When Henry VIII and his wife, Catherine, couldn’t conceive a son, the king petitioned the pope for an annulment. The pope refused — he couldn’t grant an annulment for a valid marriage — which led Henry to split the Church of England from the Catholic Church, paving the way for his second marriage to Anne Boleyn.
[For the classic movie fans, check out the K of C film guide on A Man for all Season, which won several Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. The film made our list of TOP 9 MOVIES EVERY CATHOLIC MAN MUST WATCH.]
The king required the entire kingdom to swear an oath acknowledging that the king was the head of the Church of England. But in fidelity to the pope and the Church’s teaching on marriage, More knew he couldn’t swear the oath. He had already resigned from his powerful position as chancellor, one of the highest-ranking offices in the English government. And when he refused to sign the king’s oath, he was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London, later to be executed.
More’s powerful dedication to the Church and his defense of marriage likely came in no small part from his prayerful discernment, which began long before he was married.
A devout Catholic even as a youth, More spent several months in a Carthusian monastery. But after discerning, More realized that he wasn’t called to be a spiritual father — he had a deep love of family life that led him to realize that God was calling him to the vocation of marriage. A year after leaving the Carthusians, More married a woman named Jane, and had four children with her. Undoubtedly, More’s experience with the Carthusians helped prepare him to be a good and holy father — one who showed dedication to his wife, with whom he had a happy marriage, and who cared for the physical and spiritual needs of their four children.
More’s marriage to Jane was cut short when she died after just six years of marriage. Soon after, he married a woman named Alice, believing his small children needed a mother to help raise them. Alice was also widowed, and she had a daughter from her previous marriage. Like St. Joseph who was entrusted with raising the Christ Child, More welcomed Alice’s daughter as his own.
More’s commitment to fatherhood extended even further. He adopted two daughters, Anne Cresacre and Margaret Giggs, bringing his total number of children up to seven. When he was imprisoned, his wife and children would visit him, often trying to convince him to give into the king’s demands so that he might return home. More lovingly refused, instead urging his family to stay strong in their faith. His adopted daughter Margaret was present for his martyrdom.
More’s final words were a powerful declaration: “I am the king’s good servant, and God’s first.”
His witness exemplifies what Knights of Columbus, and all Catholic men, should strive for in their work and family life. As a public servant, a husband and a father of seven, More was well-respected and admired. But he always knew that his primary role as a father was to serve as an example of Christian life— a role which required him to face one of earth’s most powerful rulers and to give his life as a martyr and as a saint.
St. Thomas More, faithful father and follower of Christ, pray for us!
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