12 May 2023


Categories: Reflections

The common term for a school or university that you have graduated from is alma mater, Latin for “nourishing mother”. The oldest extant university in the world is the University of Bologna, founded in 1088 by Catholic students who hired scholars to teach them subjects including law and theology. It is also known as Alma Mater Studiorum, “nourishing mother of studies”.

mother maryThe term alma mater is liturgically linked to Mother Mary, in particular with the antiphon Alma Redemptoris Mater, translated as “Sweet/Loving Mother of the Redeemer”.

Mother of God

May is traditionally dedicated to Our Lady; as Bishop Kevin Rhoades notes: “The month of May is always part of the Easter season, the fifty days we celebrate in the liturgy the Resurrection of Our Lord, a time also of awaiting the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

“The celebration of May as a Marian month fits well with the liturgical celebrations of Easter and Pentecost as we recall Mary’s great joy in her Son’s victory over death as well as her presence with the apostles in the upper room prayerfully awaiting the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.”


On the second Sunday of May, we also celebrate Mother’s Day. Catholics used to celebrate this on Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, when it was the custom to return to your mother church – the parish in which you were baptised, or the closest cathedral – the mother church of all the parishes in a diocese. Thus, it was also known as “Mothering Sunday”. Domestic servants were given leave to be with their families, and often brought gifts for their mothers back home.

motherAs Protestantism gradually shed such devotions, a vacuum was created. The Mother’s Day we celebrate was initiated by Anna Jarvis in the USA, as a way to honour her late mother. She campaigned assiduously until it became an official celebration. On 8 May 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a Joint Resolution that formally designated the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day.


Just like Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, taught Jesus in His humanity to be a virtuous Jewish boy, and as our mothers are meant to teach and form us to become flourishing members of society, so too do our teachers, acting in loco parentis, take on the responsibility to impart knowledge, skills and values to us so that we can live fulfilling lives contributing to our community.

mother and fatherThus, our schools are truly nourishing mothers to us, being the extension of our parents’ desire to fulfil their duty of raising us. Healthy school communities can function as extended families, providing loving communities where students can learn from staff and each other to practise living virtuously.

Is your school a loving mother to you? How can you help create a nourishing environment for your school community?

3 April 2023


Categories: Reflections

Last year, the Congregation for Catholic Education released a document titled, “The Identity of the Catholic School for a Culture of Dialogue”. It focused on how in today’s globalised world with multicultural and multireligious societies, it has become more important than ever to maintain a strong Catholic identity in our educational institutions while engaging in interreligious and intercultural dialogue.

The Congregation quotes Pope Francis: “We cannot create a culture of dialogue if we do not have identity.” Indeed, the etymology of dialogue is dia (across, between) and legein (to speak). If we do not first understand our own position, it would be futile to attempt a meaningful discussion with those who do not share or understand our beliefs.

Gospel Message

The document asserts that “a strong and united action by the Church in the field of education” is needed “in an increasingly fragmented and conflict-ridden world”. The whole reason that the Church has long been involved in education is “in obedience to her mission to proclaim the Gospel by teaching all nations”.

The Congregation refers to the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Christian Education, Gravissimum educationis, reiterating the universal right to education and the responsibility of the state to support parents in their fundamental right to select the kind of education which they prefer for their offspring.

Moreover, the Church has “the duty to educate” because of her “responsibility of announcing the way of salvation to all men, of communicating the life of Christ to those who believe, and… of assisting men to be able to come to the fullness of this life.” We see that the primary goal of Catholic education is to enable students to know, love and serve God in this life, and be forever blessed with Him in the next.

At the same time, Catholic educators are meant to promote “the complete perfection of the human person, the good of earthly society and the building of a world that is more human”. As Christ is the foremost example of what it means to be truly human, Catholic education instils Christlike virtues and values in pupils, emphasising compassion, integrity, humility, justice and mercy.

Scholastic Mission

As Pope Benedict XVI said in 2010, “A good school provides a rounded education for the whole person. And a good Catholic school, over and above this, should help all its students to become saints.”

He added, “It is only right that respect and friendship for members of other religious traditions should be among the virtues learned in a Catholic school.” Certainly, for those who are secure in their identity as Christians, it is possible to develop deep, lifelong friendships with people of various religious or non-religious backgrounds, learning from their perspectives while respectfully and joyfully sharing the faith with them.



The Congregation observes that a school is a community of learning where students of various talents and backgrounds can grow together in harmony, imbibing cultural and scientific knowledge while honing their personal skills and discerning their paths in life. On top of that, a Catholic school is to be centred on Jesus Christ: “The personal relationship with Christ enables the believer to look at the whole of reality in a radically new way,” providing “adequate responses to the fundamental questions for every woman and man”. The Catholic school must “bear witness”, enabling students to encounter God.

The document goes on to discuss the responsibilities of the school community, comprised of “students, parents, teachers, non-teaching personnel and the school management”, including how it is meant to be integrated with the wider Catholic community. It provides a cohesive blueprint for Catholic education, in a world where the Catholic identity of once-esteemed schools has been undermined by secular ideas that distort the Gospel. May the Catholic schools of Singapore continue to hold fast to Gospel values, presenting the light of Christ to all.


5 March 2023


Categories: Reflections

On the Feast of the Holy Family in 1997, the Congregation for Catholic Education released this incisive document reflecting on the challenges facing Catholic schools in the postmodern age and the continuing mission of Catholic education in a fractured world.

Buttressing the Family

The writers note that students often “lack authentic models to guide them, often even in their own families”, and educators can provide “unpretentious yet caring and sensitive help offered in those cases, more and more numerous above all in wealthy nations, of families which are ‘fragile’ or have broken up.”

Indeed, for children and youth growing up in unhappy or unstable households, school can be a haven, a place where they can flourish in comparative peace and genuine love among their teachers and friends.


At the same time, “parents have a particularly important part to play in the educating community, since it is to them that primary and natural responsibility for their children’s education belongs.” Teachers are to collaborate with parents in the education of the young, creating a “personalised approach which is needed for an educational project to be efficacious.”

Holistic Formation

The document affirms that each Catholic school “sets out to be a school for the human person and of human persons.” In modern times, there has been a “noticeable tendency to reduce education to its purely technical and practical aspects”, which fails to nurture the humanity of each pupil, “the human person in his or her integral, transcendent, historical identity.”

The Catholic school is to be “a school for all” while maintaining its “ecclesial identity”, “a genuine instrument of the Church, a place of real and specific pastoral ministry.” This can be seen particularly on Catholic Education Sunday in Singapore, where pupils, teachers and parents from our Catholic pre-schools and schools participate in the Eucharist at parishes near their educational institutions, with students serving in various roles during Holy Mass.

Growth and Maturity

The Congregation states that Catholic education “demands an atmosphere characterised by the search for truth, in which competent, convinced and coherent educators, teachers of learning and of life, may be a reflection, albeit imperfect but still vivid, of the one Teacher”, that is, Christ. They add that “in the Christian educational project all subjects collaborate, each with its own specific content, to the formation of mature personalities.”


Instead of mere cogs in the economic machine, students are seen as young ladies and gentlemen to be formed in virtue, so that they may be instruments of love within their families and communities, wherever they may go in life.

Catholic educators are meant to be “spurred on by the aim of offering to all, and especially to the poor and marginalised, the opportunity of an education, of training for a job, of human and Christian formation… (with) fervent dedication which is a manifestation of Christ’s love for the poor, the humble, the masses seeking for truth.”

Within the World

The document continues: “The school cannot be considered separately from other educational institutions and administered as an entity apart, but must be related to the world of politics, economy, culture and society as a whole.”

Catholic education cannot take place within a silo, but is situated within the context of wider society, equipping students to live out the Gospel values in their homes and future places of employment, ushering in the Kingdom of God.


15 February 2023


Categories: Reflections

Every February 15, Singapore marks Total Defence Day, on the anniversary of the day that Singapore surrendered to Japan in World War II and began to suffer under the Japanese Occupation.

Total Defence Day emphasises that every sector of society is vital to the defence of the nation. It is not just the army, navy and air force that protects our country, but also the civil defence forces and the civilian populace.

We have six pillars of Total Defence: Military, Civil, Economic, Social, Digital and Psychological Defence.

Spiritual Warfare

Likewise, in the spiritual life, we have various means of defence against the wiles of the devil and temptations of this world. St Paul wrote to the Ephesians (6:10-17):

“… be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”



How do we maintain our spiritual armour? We cannot simply go to church on Sundays and neglect our spiritual life during the rest of the week – our armour will become rusty. Faith is meant to infuse every aspect of our lives, guiding us to make ethical decisions and to grow ever closer to God as we prepare during this earthly pilgrimage to someday enter Heaven.

Practical Steps

As Lent approaches, we can take up spiritual exercises and practise praying, fasting and almsgiving. In today’s modern materialistic and high-tech society, it can be all too easy to become distracted from our ultimate goal – God – and immersed in our possessions and entertainment media. Lent is an opportunity to reset our habits and polish up our spiritual armour.


Catholic school

We can take up spiritual reading and study apologetics to strengthen our belts of truth. The sacrament of Confession will give us the graces necessary to live righteous and upright lives, shielding our hearts like a breastplate. Frequent scripture reading – perhaps set aside 10-15 minutes each morning to contemplate the Mass readings for the day – and scriptural meditation through the Rosary will instil in us the sense of abiding peace that comes from being rooted in the Word of God.

We are never alone – our guardian angels are fighting right beside us for the good of our souls, and we are surrounded by a cloud of heavenly witnesses, the saints who have completed their earthly lives in the Church Militant and are now cheering us on as the Church Triumphant. Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).

15 October 2022


Categories: Reflections

Throughout history, men and women in the Catholic Church have devoted their lives to educating the young. St Jean Baptiste de la Salle is known as the Father of Modern Education, controversially providing free education to the poor in France, in a time when illiteracy was common as education was mainly reserved for the upper classes.

Most of our Catholic schools in Singapore were founded by religious brothers or sisters, who left behind their homes in Europe in order to bring the light of the Gospel to the Pearl of Orient. Yet, from the beginning, lay teachers have also been involved alongside the religious. St Jean Baptiste formulated programmes to train lay teachers and encouraged parents to be involved with the education of their children.


When the Canossian School for the Deaf was established in Singapore in 1956, Sr Natalia Tasca FDCC gathered a group of six to work with her – this was the beginning of the Lay Canossians, who now number over a hundred.

As vocations to the religious life have dwindled, the role of lay Catholic teachers has grown even more important. In 1982, the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education produced a document on this topic titled “Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith”. The Sacred Congregation observed: “Every person who contributes to integral human formation is an educator; but teachers have made integral human formation their very profession.”


Forming Teachers

The document goes on to state: “The task of a teacher goes well beyond transmission of knowledge, although that is not excluded. Therefore, if adequate professional preparation is required in order to transmit knowledge, then adequate professional preparation is even more necessary in order to fulfil the role of a genuine teacher. It is an indispensable human formation, and without it, it would be foolish to undertake any educational work.”



Indeed, the religious spend several years in formation before they are fully-fledged and ready for their life’s mission work; the same principle applies to teachers, who have the malleable minds and hearts of the next generation in their hands. We expect teachers to be well-qualified for their vocation, which is a demanding task. Just as in other professions where skills and knowledge must constantly be updated, teaching requires educators to regularly attend workshops and seminars to hone their methods.



The Sacred Congregation acknowledges that we live in a “pluralistic world”, while underscoring the Christian vision of the human person, made in the image and likeness of God. The Church “calls for the fullest development of all that is human, because we have been made masters of the world by its Creator… Thus, Catholic educators can be certain that they make human beings more human.”

The document continues: “The vocation of every Catholic educator includes the work of ongoing social development: to form men and women who will be ready to take their place in society, preparing them in such a way that they will make the kind of social commitment which will enable them to work for the improvement of social structures, making these structures more conformed to the principles of the Gospel. Thus, they will form human beings who will make human society more peaceful, fraternal, and communitarian.”

The vision of Catholic education in this document is truly inspiring, and well worth the read. May it remind educators of their noble calling, encouraging them in the holistic education of the youth.

3 October 2022


Categories: Reflections

The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican is known for producing several documents on various aspects of the Church and Christian life. In total, there are sixteen documents, among which is the Declaration on Christian Education, Gravissimum educationis, promulgated in October 1965.

In a study and discussion guide on the declaration, Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee states: “This is the seminal document for all subsequent documents on Catholic education, whether considering that topic in general or considering Catholic schools, in particular.” Thus, it is a crucial text for anyone involved in Catholic education.

Universal Right to Education
The Declaration notes: “the circumstances of our time have made it easier and at once more urgent to educate young people and, what is more, to continue the education of adults.”

Illiteracy was common across the world just a few generations ago, particularly in pre-industrial societies where the majority lived as subsistence farmers. As demographic researcher William Hung writes, the pioneers of Singapore were mainly “peasants, jungle villagers and manual labourers from southern China, the Malay peninsula and the Indian subcontinent. Many of them were illiterate and yet their grandsons and granddaughters built the most modern city in Southeast Asia.”

Today, however, the skills of reading and writing (or at least typing) are necessary for survival, where smartphones are widely considered a necessity to function as a member of society. With knowledge-based economies, adults must regularly upskill to stay relevant in their professions. For example, teachers usually spend school holidays attending training seminars. Lifelong education is vital for personal and professional growth.

The Goal of Education
The Declaration continues: “All men of every race, condition and age, since they enjoy the dignity of a human being, have an inalienable right to an education that is in keeping with their ultimate goal… For a true education aims at the formation of the human person in the pursuit of his ultimate end and of the good of the societies of which, as man, he is a member, and in whose obligations, as an adult, he will share.”

The Vatican Council promoted holistic education, where children and youth may “develop harmoniously their physical, moral and intellectual endowments”. Indeed, as we are body and soul united, and are members of the Body of Christ as well as the general community, it is critical to receive basic human formation as well as spiritual formation in order to flourish. Those who neglect one aspect of their education will find themselves developmentally lopsided.

Parents as Primary Educators
The Council averred: “Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognised as the primary and principal educators.”

In today’s busy, hyperconnected world, it can be difficult for overworked parents to uphold this responsibility. It can be tempting to leave it all to schoolteachers and tutors. However, children learn best when their parents model to them the importance and joy of learning. Taking the time and effort to teach your child also enables you to have quality time bonding over beloved books or educational puzzles and games. Even if you are not naturally adept at the subject, the mere effort of trying to find answers with your child will demonstrate how much you cherish your offspring, setting aside your own pursuits to help him. It also teaches the child that we ought to do our best, even though it may not be perfect.

Gravissimum educationis goes on to extol the importance of schools in partnering with parents to educate their children. The Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of education in the world, with many mission schools founded for the purpose of lifting children and their families out of poverty, besides introducing them to the Gospel. The Declaration exhorts young adults to consider the noble profession of teaching, passing on the treasures of the faith and the wonders of human knowledge to future generations.

26 August 2022


Tags: Educators, Parents, Students


Categories: Reflections

The Montessori method has become synonymous with excellence in early childhood education. Even secular institutions have implemented the pedagogy of the Italian paediatrician Maria Montessori (August 31, 1870 – May 6, 1952), who understood that children have an innate drive to learn and develop their interests and talents.

Her methods emphasise internal discipline and self-directed learning, with the teacher simply facilitating the child’s discovery of the world. She said: “The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’”

Natural Strengths
In the Church, we have the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, built by Dr Sofia Cavalletti and Professor Gianna Gobbi on Montessori’s original principles. Montessori recognised that human beings have certain “sensitive periods” when we are best able to learn and retain certain kinds of knowledge or life skills, such as language, mathematics, music, fine and gross motor skills, observation through the five senses, organisation, and social etiquette. The ages of 3 to 6 mark the natural period for a child’s openness to religious faith.

Instead of looking at childhood as merely a developmental stage on the way to adulthood, as the caterpillar is one stage in the growth of a butterfly, Good Shepherd catechists see the child as a being who deserves to be appreciated and understood as a child – just as Catholics have a devotion to the Child Jesus, relating to the Second Person of the Trinity as a human child in particular, not only a wise teacher, a suffering man or an awe-inspiring Divine Judge.

Montessori wrote: “To understand the child as a creative power, to realise that he is psychologically different from us, to perceive that his need is different from ours is a step forward for all human aspirations…” As such, the teacher prepares an age-appropriate educational environment where the child can exercise his natural curiosity and absorb knowledge through all five senses.

Vision of Tomorrow
At the same time, Montessori saw the future potential of each child: “Clearly, we have a social duty towards this future man, this man who exists as a silhouette around the child, a duty towards this man of tomorrow. Perhaps a great future leader or a great genius is with us and his power will come from the power of the child he is today. This is the vision which we must have.”

As William Wordsworth wrote in his 1802 poem The Rainbow: “The Child is father of the Man,” that is, each child naturally generates a future adult who will be forever shaped by his childhood. Thus, we invest in the education of our young, knowing that this will affect their future ability to fend for themselves and to contribute positively to the community around them.

Montessori noted: “The children of today will make all the discoveries of tomorrow. All the discoveries of mankind will be known to them and they will improve what has been done and make fresh discoveries. They must make all the improvements in houses, cities, communication, methods of production, etc. that are to be made. The future generation must not only know how to do what we can teach them, they must be able to go a step further.”

Although our education system does not generally have the luxury of a Montessori classroom, where children are free to explore various subjects and learning activities according to their passions and individual pace, parents and teachers can still take Montessori’s observations to heart, assisting their children or students in naturally revealing their full potential, as well as forming them in virtue and independence.


“Lord, I’m not praying for miracles and visions,
I’m only asking for strength for my days.
Teach me the art of small steps.

Make me clever and resourceful,
so that I can find important discoveries
and experiences among the diversity of days.”

– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

14 July 2022


Tags: Educators, Parents, Students


Categories: Reflections, Saints

St Kateri Tekakwitha is the first Native American saint. Following a petition by 906 Native Americans and two certified miracles, she was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980 and canonised by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.

Early Loss
Born the daughter of the Mohawk chief Kenneronkwa and Algonquin Christian lady Kahenta in 1656, she lost her parents and baby brother to smallpox when she was only four years old. The disease scarred her face for life and partially blinded her.

She was adopted by her uncle, who was a chief of the Turtle Clan. As Mohawks, they were members of the Iroquois Confederacy, known as the Six Nations. After the epidemic, they established a fresh settlement in New York, called Caughnawaga: “place of the rapids”. The girl was named Tekakwitha, meaning “she who bumps into things”.

Mortal Danger
French colonists – allied with the Huron, who were enemies of the Iroquois – attacked the Mohawks, attempting to capture territory to expand their fur trade. They burned three villages, destroying their crops. Aged ten, Tekakwitha escaped into the wintry forest with her relatives.

Defeated by the French, the Mohawks were forced into a peace treaty. One of the conditions was that Jesuit missionaries could enter their villages. The Jesuits studied native languages and customs so that they could explain the faith to the Mohawks in terms they could understand.

The eleven-year-old Tekakwitha met three Jesuit missionaries, who introduced her to the faith. Her uncle disapproved, as one of his daughters had become Catholic and left the village to join a Catholic mission near Montreal, called Kahnawake, a variant of Caughnawaga.

Acts of Mercy
During the summer of 1669, the Mohawks managed to repel a sudden dawn invasion by several hundred Mohican warriors. Thirteen-year-old Tekakwitha joined other girls assisting Fr Jean Pierron in tending to the wounded, burying the dead, and bringing refreshments to their defence force.

The Mohawks tortured captive Mohicans before executing them. Fr Pierron begged them to stop the torture but was ignored. He imparted the faith to the Mohicans and baptised them before they died. Tekakwitha observed his example of mercy.

Familial Expectations
When she came of age at thirteen years old, Tekakwitha’s aunts expected her to marry, as was the custom. However, Tekakwitha had no desire for an earthly marriage, and resisted their matchmaking efforts for four years. Her aunts punished her with heavy workloads and much scolding, but she quietly persisted in her own way until they left her alone.

In the spring of 1674, the Jesuit priest Fr Jacques de Lamberville came to their village. Tekakwitha had injured her foot and was not with the other women harvesting corn. She expressed her deep desire to become a Christian, and Fr de Lamberville began to catechise her.

Fr de Lamberville observed that Tekakwitha was a mild-mannered young lady who strove to lead a virtuous life despite the difficulties and opposition she encountered among her community. After several months of instruction, he deemed that she was ready to enter the Catholic Church.

On Easter Sunday 1676, Tekakwitha received the sacrament of Baptism, taking St Catherine of Siena as her patroness. Her relatives were sorely disappointed with her choice and began to shun her. Some Mohawks falsely accused her of sorcery, and she could no longer rely on her uncle’s protection. Six months after being baptised, Kateri journeyed to the Jesuit mission of Kahnawake, where other native converts had settled.

New Friends
Kateri made her new home in the same longhouse as her older adoptive sister, who was married. Her mother’s close friend Anastasia Tegonhatsiongo was the clan matron and took Kateri under her wing. The Mohawk ladies at Kahnawake taught Kateri the customs of Catholicism; the French missionaries were busy with other duties. The missionary Fr Pierre Cholenec wrote: “All the Iroquois who come here and then become Christians owe their conversion mainly to the zeal of their relatives.”

Another new friend for Kateri was Marie-Thérèse Tegaianguenta. They prayed together, and longed to form a religious order for native women, but the Jesuits discerned that they were yet too “young in faith” to found a sustainable group.

Kateri often fasted and performed various penances, praying diligently for the conversion of her relatives back in Caughnawaga. Anastasia encouraged her in this practice, but Kateri was so zealous that her poor health worsened. Fr Claude Chauchetière intervened, explaining that penance is meant to be done in moderation.

In 1680 during Holy Week, the 24-year-old Kateri became very ill. On Holy Wednesday around 3 p.m. – the Hour of Mercy – she died in the arms of Marie-Thérèse after receiving the last rites from Fr Cholenec. Her last words were: “Jesus, Mary, I love you.”

The villagers reported that upon her death, Kateri’s scarred face became smooth and radiant. In the weeks afterward, Anastasia, Marie-Thérèse and Fr Chauchetière saw visions of her. She told Marie-Thérèse: “I’ve come to say good-bye; I’m on my way to heaven.”

Within four years, people began to come to the chapel near Kateri’s grave on pilgrimage, seeking her intercession. The miracle which led to her canonisation was the 2006 healing of a young Native American boy from a flesh-eating bacterium.

Life Lessons
From Kateri’s example, we can learn to be firmly devoted to God, even when the people around us think we are being silly. She is the patron saint of people ridiculed for their piety, along with those who are orphans and exiles.

Despite her youth and early trauma, Kateri found faith, hope and joy in our Father in Heaven, Who provided her with the friends and mentors she needed to continue on her path of virtue. Let us also seek out communities where we can be supported in our faith and morals, particularly in the face of modern temptations and ideologies. Also, like Kateri, let us pray for our loved ones to encounter Christ and be conformed to Him.

22 June 2022


Tags: Educators, Parents, Students


Categories: Reflections, Saints

We recently celebrated Father’s Day. Fathers are vital to their children’s wellbeing and success in life. Research has shown that those whose fathers spent more quality time with them as children usually end up with higher IQs and better jobs in life.

Conversely, those who grow up without involved fathers have a lower chance of going to university or obtaining gainful employment, and often end up in prison. A father’s love and presence in his children’s lives builds a firm foundation for them to develop a secure identity and sense of purpose.

An Upright Man
On 22 June each year, we commemorate the execution of a just man: St Thomas More. A brilliant lawyer and honourable judge who had graduated from Oxford, More was appointed Lord Chancellor of England, second in political importance only to the king. He was a close friend of King Henry VIII.

Thomas More’s son-in-law and biographer William Roper recalled how the Lord Chancellor prioritised his family above his service to the king: “Because he was of a pleasant disposition, it often pleased the King and the Queen… at the time of their supper… to call for him to be merry with them.

“They delighted so much in his talk that he could not once in a month get leave to go home to his wife and children (whose company he most desired). When he was absent from the court for only two days, he was sent for again.

“Much disliking this restraint upon his liberty, More began to dissemble his nature somewhat. Little by little he changed from his usual mirth that he was not so frequently sent for.” A clever, diplomatic ruse which allowed him to fulfil his role as a husband and father, without offending the king outright.

More attained his high-ranking position because of his honesty and efficiency. After serving as a member of Parliament from 1504, in 1510 he became an undersheriff of the City of London. Unlike many other public servants, More refused bribes and became well-known for his integrity. Thus, King Henry VIII took note of his virtue and invited him to become his privy councillor in 1518. In 1523, More was elected the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Emphasis on Education
The second of six children to the lawyer and judge Sir John More and his wife Agnes, Thomas considered abandoning his legal career to join the Carthusian monks. However, he discerned that his vocation lay elsewhere, and married Jane Colt the year after his election to Parliament.

Thomas had three daughters and a son with Jane, who passed away in 1511. He swiftly married his good friend Alice Middleton so that his small children would have a mother to look after them, and received Alice’s daughter from her first marriage as his own child. On top of this, he was the foster father of two young girls, Anne Cresacre and Margaret Giggs. Margaret was later the only member of his family to witness his execution.

Sir Thomas More gave his daughters the same quality education as his son, an unconventional choice for a parent of his time. He also tutored his first wife, Jane, in music and literature, to improve upon the education she had received at home. More’s decision to educate his daughters inspired other noble families to do the same.

More wrote many affectionate letters to his children while away on business, and eagerly awaited their replies.

Piety and Orthodoxy
Though he lived in the world and had a large circle of friends, Sir Thomas More continued his devout prayer life, wearing a hair shirt as a form of self-mortification. Furthermore, although he subscribed to the new trend of humanism, More held firm to the teachings of Holy Mother Church, and recognised the Protestant Reformation as a threat to the unity of Christendom, dividing church and state. He was a prolific writer of religious and political works, including the famous Utopia. As Lord Chancellor of England, the foremost judge of the nation, it was his job to sentence heretics to burn at the stake, but he refused to have them whipped and tortured first.

Ironically, King Henry VIII also wrote against Protestant heresies, producing the pamphlet Declaration of the Seven Sacraments Against Martin Luther. For this, Pope Leo X granted him the title of Defender of the Faith. Only a few years later, unable to produce an heir and unable to divorce and remarry, Henry VIII decided to break from the Catholic Church, setting up the Church of England with himself as the head of the new sect.

Thomas More could not in good conscience condone this schism, and refused to sign the Oath of Supremacy, which declared the king to be the supreme head of the Anglican Church. He resigned as Chancellor, and in 1533, he did not attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn as the Queen of England, though he wrote a polite letter expressing his well-wishes.

His lack of attendance was still seen as a snub, and the king had false charges brought against More of accepting bribes. Lack of evidence saw the charges dismissed, but he was later arrested on grounds of treason for failure to accept the Oath of Succession confirming Anne as queen and rejecting the Pope’s authority.

As depicted in the excellent Oscar-winning film A Man for All Seasons (1966), false testimony by the Solicitor General Richard Rich was brought against Thomas More, sealing his fate. He was imprisoned for over a year in the Tower of London, where he wrote A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation, a short story in conversational form, reflecting that all suffering can be beneficial if you respond to it with faith and trust in God. His eldest biological daughter Margaret Roper (nicknamed Meg) visited him as often as she could and smuggled his letters out under her dress.

On 6 July 1535, Thomas More was beheaded, stating that he died as “the king’s good servant, and God’s first.” He was so calm that he could joke in the face of death, telling the executioner to be careful of his beard, as it was innocent of any crime.

More’s son-in-law Will Roper had become a Lutheran for some time. More tried reasoning with him, but perceiving that his arguments bore no fruit, decided to pray instead. Roper credits his father-in-law’s fervent prayers for his return to the faith.

St Thomas More’s adopted daughter Margaret buried his decapitated corpse; his biological daughter Meg rescued his severed head. The former Margaret risked her life to help the Carthusian Martyrs, who starved to death in prison for refusing to renounce the faith.

Do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best. – Thomas More’s last letter to Margaret (Meg)

Today, St Thomas More and his fellow martyr Bishop John Fisher (the former tutor of Henry VIII; killed on 22 June) are commemorated by the Anglican church as saints, being martyrs of conscience. The Anglican writer Jonathan Swift (author of Gulliver’s Travels) wrote that Thomas More was “a person of the greatest virtue this kingdom ever produced”. The Anglican priest and poet John Donne described him as “a man of the most tender and delicate conscience that the world saw since Augustine.”

Thomas More continues to be a model of prayer, inner strength and faith for us today. He is a patron saint of adopted children, widowers, large families, civil servants, politicians and lawyers. Although he had to abide by his conscience and sacrifice his earthly fatherhood, his courageous witness to God’s truth made him a steadfast spiritual father for time immemorial.


A Prayer by Saint Thomas More

Grant me, O Lord, good digestion,
and also something to digest.
Grant me a healthy body,
and the necessary good humour to maintain it.
Grant me a simple soul
that knows to treasure all that is good
and that doesn’t frighten easily at the sight of evil,
but rather finds the means to put things back in their place.
Give me a soul that knows not
boredom, grumblings, sighs and laments,
nor excess of stress,
because of that obstructing thing called “I”.
Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humour.
Allow me the grace to be able to take a joke
to discover in life a bit of joy,
and to be able to share it with others.


26 May 2022


Tags: Educators, Parents, Students


Categories: Reflections, Saints

The true way to advance in holy virtues is to persevere in a holy cheerfulness.
If you wish to go to extremes, let it be in sweetness, patience, humility, and charity.
~ St Philip Neri

St Philip Neri’s feast is usually celebrated on the 26th of May. A friend of St Ignatius of Loyola, and the founder of the Congregation of the Oratory, known as the Oratorians, St Philip is called the third Apostle of Rome after Sts Peter and Paul.

Born in a poor family, though related to Italian nobility, Philip was a pious young lad tutored by the Dominicans in the humanities. He often went to the Dominican chapel to pray. Receiving a vision that he was called to Rome, he left everything behind and went.

Working as a tutor while studying philosophy and theology, Philip began to settle into the Eternal City. After awhile, thinking his studies were interfering with his prayer life, he decided to sell all his books and gave the money to the poor.


A Fresh Start

Cast yourself into the arms of God and be very sure that if He wants anything of you, He will fit you for the work and give you strength.
~ St Philip Neri

Instead of scholarly pursuits, Philip started visiting and tending to sick and impoverished pilgrims. He gathered a group of people to engage in this charitable work, while living as a lay hermit. This became the Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity.

On the eve of Pentecost in 1544, Philip was praying in the catacomb of St Sebastian when he fell into a mystical ecstasy and experienced a vision of a globe of holy fire that entered his chest; he had the sensation of God’s overwhelming love. “Enough, enough Lord, I can bear no more!” he cried. After his death, the doctor found that two of his ribs had bowed further outwards and he had a physically enlarged heart.

Philip longed to be of service to God and man. He thought of joining the Jesuits in their mission to India. However, he received visions telling him that his place was in Rome. Though it was the mighty centre of Christendom, it was also full of the poor, lacking education and catechesis. He was advised that he could do even more good as a priest, so he entered the seminary.



Ordained to the priesthood in 1551, Fr Philip spent hours hearing confessions. Like Padre Pio, he could read souls and tell penitents what sins they needed to confess. Fr Philip also began ministering to the youth, finding safe places for them to engage in play.

Pope Gregory XIV tried to make him a cardinal, but Fr Philip declined. He established the Congregation of the Oratory in 1575, a group of priests and lay brothers dedicated to preaching and teaching. They live together in a community bound together by no formal vows, but only with the bond of charity, emulating the first disciples of Christ. Today, there are eighty-six Congregations of the Oratory across the world.


Saint of Joy

A joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one.
~ St Philip Neri

Fr Philip became so popular that he was accused of creating his own sect. Thankfully, he was cleared of this false allegation. He was aware of how people were setting him on a pedestal, and took steps to dispel their adulation of him, doing all sorts of silly things to emphasise his humanity and make others stop venerating him as a living saint. He wanted all their attention and the glory to be directed to God alone.

Among other things, Fr Philip was found reading a joke book when dignitaries came to see him; he neatly shaved off half his beard when invited to a party for the elite, embarrassing the host, who had wanted to bask in the reflection of his fame as a holy man; and wore funny large white shoes while out and about. When a novice was far too serious, Fr Philip stood on his head, to make him laugh.

He applied these lessons to others as well. When some of his more self-important, pompous penitents made their confessions, he imposed deflating penances on them, such as walking through the streets of Rome carrying his cat.

Pope John Paul II observed, “It is the laws of the Gospel and the commandments of Christ that lead to joy and happiness: this is the truth proclaimed by St Philip Neri to the young people he met in his daily apostolate. His was a message dictated by the intimate experience he had of God especially in prayer…

He did not choose the life of solitude; but, in exercising his ministry among the common people, he also wished to be ‘salt’ for all those who met him. Like Jesus, he was equally able to enter into the human misery present in the noble palaces and in the alleys of Renaissance Rome.

May we learn from St Philip to serve and evangelise wherever God has placed us, in our local communities; and to maintain a joyful disposition as far as possible, trusting fully in God’s providence and recognising our humble status as His creatures.

St Philip Neri’s life story is beautifully depicted in the 2010 movie I Prefer Heaven – an excellent film to watch and discuss with your family or class.


Prayer to St Philip Neri

O holy St Philip Neri, patron saint of joy,
you who trusted Scripture’s promise
that the Lord is always at hand
and that we need not have anxiety about anything,
in your compassion heal our worries and sorrows
and lift the burdens from our hearts.
We come to you as one whose heart swells
with abundant love for God and all creation.
Hear us, we pray, especially in this need (make your request).
Keep us safe through your loving intercession,
and may the joy of the Holy Spirit which filled your heart, St Philip,
transform our lives and bring us peace. Amen.