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June 22

St John Fisher - June 22

Saint John Fisher
Bishop, Cardinal, Martyr
(1469 – 1535)

“A good man is not a perfect man; a good man is an honest man, faithful and unhesitatingly responsive to the voice of God in his life.”

Saint John Fisher

His Early Life

John was born at Beverly, Yorkshire, England in 1469. He was the eldest son of Robert Fisher, merchant of Beverley, and Agnes his wife. When John was 8 years old, his father died. His early education was probably received in the school attached to the collegiate church in his native town. Acknowledging John’s aptitude for learning, and being financially well-off, his mother assented to his admission into the University of Cambridge. In the 1482, at the age of twelve or thirteen, he left Lincoln for Cambridge.

Highly Educated Ordained Priest

In 1487, John earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, followed by his M.A. degree in 1491. That same year, John was elected a fellow of his college. Also in 1491, John received a papal dispensation to enter the priesthood despite being under canonical age. On December 17, 1491, John was ordained into the priesthood and appointed Vicar of Northallerton, Yorkshire. For the next three years from 1491 to 1494, he was parish priest.

Confessor to King Henry VII’s Mother

In 1494, John resigned this benefice to become proctor of the university. Three years later, he was appointed master debater. At this same time, John also became chaplain and confessor to Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII.

Earned Doctorate

In July 1501, John received his doctorate in sacred theology. Ten days later, he was elected Vice-Chancellor of the university. Under John’s guidance, the Lady Margaret founded St. John’s and Christ’s Colleges at Cambridge and also the two “Lady Margaret” professorships of divinity at Oxford and Cambridge respectively. John himself became the first occupant of the Cambridge chair. From 1505 to 1508, he was also the President of Queens’ College. At the end of July 1516, John was at Cambridge for the opening of St John’s College and consecrated the chapel.

During this time, John continued to write books and pursue his own studies, beginning to learn Greek at age 48, and Hebrew at 51. Living austerely sleeping and eating little, John kept a skull in front of him at meals to remind himself of his mortality. He formed one of the most exceptional libraries in Europe with the intention of bequeathing it to the university.

Bishop

By papal bull dated October 14, 1504, John was appointed the bishop of Rochester at the personal insistence of Henry VII. At that time, Rochester was the poorest diocese in England and usually seen as a first step on an ecclesiastical career. Nonetheless, John stayed there, presumably by his own choice, for the remaining 31 years of his life. He counted Saint Thomas More among his friends.

In this same year, John was elected the university’s chancellor. Re-elected annually for 10 years, John ultimately received a lifetime appointment. At this time,John is also said to have acted as tutor to the future king, Henry VIII.

As a preacher his reputation was so great that John was appointed to preach the funeral oration for King Henry VII and the Lady Margaret, both of whom died in 1509.

Despite his fame and eloquence, it was not long before John came into conflict with the new King, King Henery VIII, his former pupil. The dispute arose over funds left by the Lady Margaret, the King’s grandmother, for financing foundations at Cambridge.

Church Reformer

John fully realized the urgent need of reform in the church, from popes and bishops downwards, but was opposed to Lutheran ideas of reform. He wrote four weighty volumes against them. At Paul’s Cross, John preached in defense of Christian doctrine when Luther’s books were banned and burned. Yet, he preferred prayer and example before controversy.

Against King Henry VIII as Head of Church

With the utmost boldness and not without justification, John censored the clergy at a synod in the presence of Cardinal Wolsey himself for their corruption, vanity, laxity, and love of gain. Most of the higher clergy had won their preferments through secular service to the state or by private interest. As a member of the House of Lords, John vigorously opposed the government’s policy of war and criticized the measures against the clergy that were being forced through the Commons. He uttered another great protest in convocation when that assembly was called upon to agree that King Henry VIII was the head of the Church of England. He did suggest adding to the oath the words, “So far as the law of Christ allows” which smoothed the path of many who signed.

Imprisoned

In 1530, the continued encroachments on the Church moved John, as bishop of Rochester, along with the bishops of Bath and Ely, to appeal to the Pope. This gave the King his opportunity and an edict forbidding such appeals was immediately issued, and the three bishops were arrested. Their imprisonment, however, must have lasted only a few months for in February 1531, Convocation met, and Fisher was present.

Against King Henry’s Annulment

Boldest of all was John’s uncompromising attitude to the scandalous divorce of Catherine of Aragon by King Henry. In June 1532, Fisher preached publicly against King Henry’s annulment. After William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, died, Thomas Cranmer was at once proposed by King Henry to the Pope as his successor. In January of 1533, King Henry secretly went through a form of marriage with Anne Boleyn. Cranmer’s consecration as a bishop took place in March 1533. A week later, John was arrested. It seems that the purpose of this arrest was to prevent John from opposing the annulment which Cranmer pronounced in May, or the coronation of Anne Boleyn which followed on June 1, for John was set at liberty again within shortly after the event with no charges being made against him. Imprisoned in 1534 for his opposition, John spent 14 months in prison without trial.

Assassination Attempts

A few days later, several of John’s household were taken ill after eating some porridge served to the household. Two people died, however, John was fasting that day. On another occasion in 1530, a canonball fired from across the Thames hit John’s house, narrowly missing his study in an assassination attempt.

His Death

Because he refused to swear an oath affirming the supremacy of the king as Supreme Head of the church of England, John was imprisoned in the Tower of London. There, John received the title of Cardinal granted him by Pope Paul III, apparently in the hope of inducing King Henry to ease John’s treatment. The effect was precisely the revers. Rather King Henry forbade the cardinal’s hat to be brought into England, declaring that he would send the head to Rome instead.

In June 1535, a special commission for Fisher’s trial was issued. John was found guilty and condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. However, this penalty was changed to beheading because John, as a 66-year-old sick Cardinal who was too weak to endure torture. On June 22, 1535, John was executed on Tower Hill, Tyburn, London, England. His death also happened on the feast day of Saint Alban, the first martyr or protomartyr of Britain.

John was buried in the churchyard of All Hallows, Barking, without rites or a shroud. His head was exhibited on London Bridge for two weeks as an example, then thrown into the River Thames. His relics are kept in Saint Peter’s Church in the Tower of London. Saint John Fisher is the only cardinal to have been martyred.

Born :                   1469 in Beverly, Yorkshire, England

Died:                    June 22, 1535 in Tower Hill, Tyburn, London, England

Beatified:            December 29, 1886 by Pope Leo XIII

Canonized:         May 19, 1935 by Pope Pius XI

Feast Day:          June 22

Patron Saint:     Diocese of Rochester, New York, USA

Source:

Reflection 

Refusing to recognize Henry VIII as the supreme head of the Church in England, Saint John Fisher faced persecution with remarkable serenity. His execution, rather than a defeat, became a triumph of faith over the temporal powers that sought to suppress it. We are challenged to examine our own commitment to our Christian faith in the midst of daily challenges. His legacy invites us to stand resolute in the face of societal pressures and to prioritize Catholic beliefs over expediency. May his life inspire us to be unwavering beacons of faith for others to see Jesus Christ in the often turbulent seas of our own times.

While we may not face martyrdom like Saint John Fisher, will we possess today the courage to defend our Catholic faith and uphold its principles, even in the face of adversity?

Prayers

Saint John Fisher,

Valiant defender of the Catholic faith, your life bears witness to the enduring strength of faith, guiding you through the storms of political and religious turmoil.

As Bishop and Chancellor, you led with integrity and grace, inspiring all who sought the light of wisdom.

In the shadow of persecution, you faced martyrdom with serene courage, choosing the crown of eternal life over temporal acclaim.

Intercede for us so that we may stand firm in our convictions, fearlessly proclaiming the truth in a world often swayed by falsehood.

May our hearts be enlightened by the enduring light of Christ providing us strength to follow God’s laws in our faith every day on holy journey to the fruits of eternal life.

Saint John Fisher, pray for us, Amen.

Saint Links 

All Saints & Martyrs – Saint John Fisher

AnaStpaul – Saint of the Day – 22 June – Saint John Fisher (1469-1535) Bishop, Martyr

Angelus – Saints John Fisher and Thomas More: Following God’s law above all else

America Needs Fatima – Saints Thomas More and John Fisher

Catholic Exchange – St. John Fisher: A Cardinal & Saint For Our Troubled Time

Catholic Ireland – Jun 22 – St John Fisher, 1469 -1535 AD martyr

Catholic Online – St. John Fisher

CatholicSaints.Info – Saints of the Day – John Fisher of Rochester – by Katherine I Rabenstein

CatholicSaints.Info – The Ways to Perfect Religion, by John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, being Prisoner in the Tower of London

Find a Grave – Saint John Fisher

Franciscan Media – Saint John Fisher

Independent Catholic News – St Thomas More and St John Fisher

Loyola Press – Saints John Fisher and Thomas More Feast day June 22

My Catholic Life – June 22: Saints John Fisher, Bishop

National Catholic Register – St. John Fisher: Martyr and Model for Bishops

New Advent – Huddleston, G. (1910). St. John Fisher. In The Catholic Encyclopedia

Saint for a Minute – Saint John Fisher

Saint Mary’s Press – Saint John Fisher (1469-1535)

Video Link

Ss John Fisher & Thomas More – YouTube (Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network – USA)

Saint of the Week: St. John Fisher – YouTube (The True Enlightenment!)