Hundreds gather to venerate relics of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher

Jean Schmitz is a longtime fan of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, two 16th-century martyrs who exemplified courage and conviction in the face of persecution.

About 25 years ago, she and her husband, Joe, members of Sacred Heart Parish in Sauk Rapids, watched the movie, “A Man for All Seasons,” which portrays the life of St. Thomas More. One of their sons also played a role in a brief rendition of the play in high school.

A piece of bone from St. Thomas More is displayed in a 16th-century silver reliquary. (Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)
A piece of bone from St. Thomas More is displayed in a 16th-century silver reliquary. (Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)

The Schmitzes were among hundreds who gathered at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud June 27 to venerate the relics of the two saints as part of the U.S. Catholic Church’s Fortnight for Freedom observance this year.

“These English martyrs are reminders for us to really be thankful for our religious freedom. It’s not to be taken lightly,” Jean Schmitz said. “These two saints also stand for those Christians right now who are being martyred around the world.”

The Fortnight for Freedom — which runs from June 21 to July 4 — is two weeks of prayer, education and advocacy for the cause of religious freedom in the United States. This year’s theme is “Witnesses to Freedom,” which highlights men and women in the church’s past and present who have fought for religious liberty, including More and Fisher, whose feast day was June 22.

The relic of St. John Fisher is a ring he wore that features a cameo of Aristotle. (Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)
The relic of St. John Fisher is a ring he wore that features a cameo of Aristotle. (Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)

More was beheaded in 1535 after opposing King Henry’s VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and his decision to name himself supreme head of the church. St. John Fisher, an English bishop, was martyred the same year for similar opposition to Henry VIII’s actions.

The relics included a piece of bone from St. Thomas More enclosed in a 16th-century crystal-and-silver reliquary and St. John Fisher’s signet ring set with a cameo of Aristotle. Both are part of the “Strength of the Saints” national tour that traveled to all six dioceses in Minnesota and will include stops in Miami, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Washington.

The tour is sponsored in part by the Knights of Columbus and organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops along with Jesuit-run Stonyhurst College in Clitheroe, England, which houses the relics. The Minnesota Catholic Conference, the official public policy voice of the church in the state, helped organize the tour locally.

Nole German, left, and his daughter Ella, 9, traveled from Hutchinson, Minnesota, to see the relics. They are members of St. Anastasia Parish there. Next to Ella is Peggy Imholte, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Waite Park. (Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)
Nole German, left, and his daughter Ella, 9, traveled from Hutchinson, Minnesota, to see the relics. They are members of St. Anastasia Parish there. Next to Ella is Peggy Imholte, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Waite Park. (Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)

Over 100 people attended a showing of the 1966 film, “A Man for All Seasons,” prior to the veneration of the relics. Hundreds more attended the Holy Hour with eucharistic adoration led by Bishop Donald Kettler, evening prayer with Scripture and song, and a brief presentation on the relics by Stonyhurst’s curator, Jan Graffius.

Graffius, who spends much of her time teaching children, shared two things she always tells those who come to “look, listen and learn” about the relics.

“These relics remind us that faith is a gift,” she said. “It is a gift that comes with a price tag, and we will all at some point in our life be asked to pay for our faith. It may be through persecution. It may be through ridicule. It may be through emotional or financial penalty. You may be asked, as Thomas and John were, to pay the final and ultimate sacrifice of defending your faith.”

Second, she urges them to become informed on the issues.

“Thomas More and John Fisher were two of the most intelligent men of their day,” she said. “They were great students, they read … and they formed their own opinion. These relics say to the children, ‘Let us go into the world.’ Read, understand and form yourself. Don’t be swayed by the opinions of the crowd. … Thomas and John stood steadfast in their own belief because they knew what they believed because they had formed themselves. Go out into the public square and stand up for what you believe in. You can be quite sure that John Fisher and Thomas More will be interceding with us and great glory and great things will come from this.”

Bishop Donald Kettler incenses the monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament during the Holy Hour. (Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)
Bishop Donald Kettler incenses the monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament during the Holy Hour. (Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)

In his remarks, Bishop Kettler said that, as Catholics and Americans, faith and liberty are gifts and “to be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other.”

“Our Catholic faith calls us to work together for the common good of all, all who live in this land. We are stewards of the gifts of faith and liberty. These gifts are not just for ourselves but for all people and in fact, for all nations,” he said.

He added that religious liberty is not only about the freedom to go to Mass on Sunday.

“It is about whether we can make freely a contribution to the common good of all, to immigrants and refugees, to protect those yet to be born and for those approaching the end of life, to help to provide for all family unity, education, health care, food and housing,” he said.

Dianne Brenny, a member of Annunciation Parish in Mayhew Lake, attended the event with her friend, Camille Hinds, a member of Immaculate Conception in Rice.

“It was a good reminder that we need to be strong in our faith,” Brenny said.

Hinds added that she felt inspired to be a “prayer warrior” for the issues Bishop Kettler mentioned.

“There is such a need for all of us to wake up and not be afraid to say that we stand with Jesus,” Hinds added. “We need to be the light of him and be kind and loving to everyone we meet.”

Author: Kristi Anderson

Leave a Reply

*