I’d like to start with a little Shakespeare!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
On the contrary the name and character of our patron define who we are and what we value. If we were called UniLodge or Urbanest or Igloo or any other of the commercial university residential providers that exist, we would lose the heart and soul of our wonderful College.
I hope that at the end of my comments you will appreciate the dignity and responsibility that comes from adopting St Thomas More as our patron and invoking his name in whatever guise: St Thomas More College; Tommy More; or simply Tommy.
So who is our patron?
St Thomas More rose to become one of the most significant figures in Tudor England in the early to mid-1500s. As Speaker of the House of Commons (the lower house in England), Privy Councillor (effectively an adviser to King Henry VIII), Lord Chancellor (the second highest ranking of the Great Officers of State) and Lord Chief Justice (Head of the judiciary), Thomas More was second only to King Henry VIII in the realm. However, the character of Thomas More is more important than his titles and achievements.
Thomas More was a man of deep faith and he was passionately committed to learning. He wrote the book titled “Utopia” about the perfect society and he was a close friend of eminent scholars and philosophers of the time. In the patriarchal, hierarchical society of 16th century England, More challenged the idea that education was the sole domain of wealthy males by nurturing the intellectual talents of his four children; Margaret, Elizabeth, Cicely and John. At times he was the focus of harsh criticism for his unorthodox views.
Tutors for his children were carefully chosen with More writing to William Gunnell, a prospective tutor, outlining expectations about the education of his children: “…put virtue in the first place, learning in the second; and in their studies to esteem most whatever may teach them piety towards God, charity to all, and Christian humility in themselves.” As evident through this approach, Saint Thomas More based the formation of his family upon the Christian understanding of education.
Thomas More’s difficulties began when his powerful friend, King Henry VIII, demanded his support for the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. In conscience, More refused to condone Henry’s divorce from his 1st of 6 wives, so he could marry the much younger, prettier and hopefully fertile Anne Boleyn. Soon, this issue was intertwined with Henry’s claim to be the supreme Head of the Church in England. In 1534 Thomas More was committed to the Tower of London. After refusing to take Henry VIII’s Oath of Supremacy, he was convicted - on perjured evidence - of High Treason on 1st July 1535 and was beheaded five days later.
Thomas More, a graduate of the University of Oxford, was a deeply religious lawyer who considered the priesthood at one stage, an ordinary married man with 4 children, who rose to great prominence. He cared for those in need and he stood up for his principles. In his prison cell in the Tower of London facing imminent death he is given the line;
If we lived in a state where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us saintly. But since we see that abhorrence, anger, pride, and stupidity commonly profit far beyond charity, modesty, justice, and thought, perhaps we must stand fast a little - even at the risk of being heroes…
His assessment of 16th Century England holds as much relevance for 21st Century Australia!
Thomas More is admired because he was committed to what he considered right and good and because he was willing to pay the consequences for what he believed. He endured his misfortunes with patience and good grace. As he told his many friends who urged him to change his position: “Your conscience must save you and mine must save me”. He was a man of immense personal integrity and courage.
He was also a man of great humour. Indeed, in a frail state after a long period of incarceration, More ascended the scaffold where he would be beheaded on 6 July, 1535. He jokingly requested that his executioners to help him up the scaffold, but stated that he would see himself down again.
He also requested just prior to his execution that his beard be moved so that it would not be cut because surely it had committed no treason.
Finally, and in all solemnity, he declared “I die the king's good servant, but God's first”. Hence our motto Prius Dei Servus - God’s servant first.
His feast day in the Catholic Church is the 22nd of June although the Anglican Church celebrates his feast day on 6 July, the date of his martyrdom.
He is the patron saint of lawyers, university students and politicians as well as adopted children. His example acts as a guide for all at the College as we try to uphold the virtues of integrity and compassion in our own lives. He was a leader of note through his intellect, his fortitude and his authentic adherence to what he fundamentally believed to be true and just.
How appropriate it is that St Thomas More is our patron. Whether it is personal grief, academic hurdles or any one of the myriad challenges that life throws at us, we constantly witness members of the College rising to the challenge, standing firm in their convictions and being supported by the wonderful community that is Tommy.
Beyond our campus, the College is developing ways in which our community can make a positive difference in the lives of the disadvantaged and marginalised. Although there are varied motivations for getting involved in the College’s Outreach opportunities, for people of faith we are complying with the unambiguous statement in Matthew’s Gospel today: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me”.
Aristotle puts it succinctly in the statement; “where your skills and passion meet the world’s greatest need – there is your satisfaction and vocation”.
Going back to Shakespeare: What’s in a name? For us here at Tommy More, it represents the personification of who we are and what we stand for!