In just two days from today our diocese will celebrate the feast of the saint who is the patron saint of the Diocese of Rochester: St. John Fisher. It was on this date in the year 1535 that Bishop John Fisher was beheaded at Tyburn. Just two weeks later his friend and colleague, Thomas More was beheaded a well.
John Fisher was a very learned scholar and while still quite young he became the Master of Theology at Michaelhouse, one of the colleges of Cambridge University. Not long after he was promoted to the office of Vice-Chancellor of the University. He was a highly respected teacher and revered priest.
He was still rather young when he was appointed bishop of the Diocese of Rochester. Rochester was a very small diocese and seen by many as a stepping stone to higher and more important dioceses. For John Fisher, however, he was content to remain in his tiny diocese. He loved to travel, even on horseback, to visit his parishes and get to know who his parishioners were.
It wasn’t long before he was asked to be the chaplain to Henry VIII’s mother, the Lady Margaret. He graciously accepted that role and remained as her chaplain and spiritual guide until her death years later.
It wasn’t until some years later that things began to change for Bishop John Fisher and for many in England and for Sir Thomas More who was Chancellor of England. All of this because the King decided to divorce his wife Catherine of Aragon and to marry Anne Boylen. The church would not consent to what King Henry wanted and when Fisher and More refused to take an oath of allegiance to what the King wanted that both these men were arrested and taken to the Tower of London.
John Fisher remained in the Tower for 18 months and then was tried and found guilty of treason for refusing to go along with what the King wanted. After so long in the Tower John began to think that they had forgotten about him. Sadly, not so. One morning before dawn Fisher was awakened by a jailer and told that he was to be beheaded later that morning. Fisher thanked the jailer and since it was still dark, he went back to sleep for another hour or so.
When the hour came for his execution John Fisher went silently to the place where he would meet his death. He displayed a calm demeanor and when they reached the block, he prayed the Te Deum. The last verse of this great hymn of praise was his last words he spoke: “But I trusted in thee, O Lord: I said Thou art my God.”
We can be honored that St. John Fisher was selected to be our diocesan patron saint. A man of such holiness, courage and learning he spent his life in the service of the church with complete fidelity. A worthy patron indeed.