The St. Thomas More Society of the Diocese of Wilmington is a group dedicated to justice, personal courage and conviction, commitment to law, community and religion, scholarly pursuits, intelligence, honesty and integrity, humility and humor, and a record of personal sacrifice for the good of the community.
Those are also among the characteristics required to win the society’s Msgr. Paul J. Taggart St. Thomas More Award.
At its 30th annual dinner May 20 at Wilmington Country Club, the group will present the award to Bishop W. Francis Malooly of the Diocese of Wilmington.
“This is our 30th annual dinner and we wanted to make it special,” said attorney Richard Kirk, a founding member and the group’s first president. “We couldn’t think of a way to make it more special.”
The society is a fellowship of attorneys committed to the example set by Saint Thomas More, promoting and fostering high ethical principles, assisting in the spiritual growth of its members and encouraging interfaith understanding.
“The mission is to bring together attorneys who don’t have to be Catholic, but many of us are,” said Sara Toner, president of the St. Thomas More Society. “And people who basically share the mission of our patron saint, St. Thomas More. While a lot of our members are Catholic lawyers, some are not, and that’s always been part of the pride of the society – that it’s open.”
St. Thomas More wrote works on governance and in defense of faith. He was beheaded on July 6, 1535, by order of King Henry VIII, whom More had resisted in the matter of the king’s divorce.
The group’s annual dinner has been a significant event over the years, attracting notable speakers and award winners. The list of past speakers includes the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a towering legal figure who drew high marks for his work at speaking engagements. Past winners include Bishops Robert E. Mulvee, Michael A. Saltarelli and John O. Barres, as well as numerous judges and attorneys.
Bishop Malooly described the society as an active group dedicated to the community.
“When men and women get together and share their faith, it’s encouraging,” he said. “We have a very diverse group. We have older and younger people who are attracted by the quality of the lawyers and judges in the group.”
The bishop said his involvement with the St. Thomas More Society has been a significant part of his tenure.
“In my 10 years, some of the closest friends I have made are in the society,” Bishop Malooly said.
Among the group’s initiatives is an annual Red Mass, held each autumn. The event is named for the color of the vestments worn by celebrants at the Mass that invokes the Holy Spirit to inspire legal professionals.
Matthew Boyer is a past president of the society and a member of its executive committee. He believes the society brings together tenets of faith and a desire to preserve justice.
“I find it really valuable in providing a fellowship among attorneys committed to something more than making a living. It’s kind of a spiritual calling – to fight for justice,” Boyer said.
Kirk was part of the committee that chose to honor Bishop Malooly.
“He’s been a great leader and has been a tremendous friend of the St. Thomas More Society,” he said. “He’s very pastoral, a true pastor. He has such a kind and gentle way. He is every bit the pastor to his flock.”
Boyer agreed. “He’s somebody who has really made a contribution, holding the diocese together in such a challenging time with the courage to keep things moving forward.”
Kirk said members of the nominating committee recognized that Bishop Malooly would likely resist personal recognition for himself and said they were ready to overcome his objections.
“We wanted to make it clear that it was important for the society that he allow us to do this,” Kirk said.