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A Brief Account of the Origins of St. Thomas More Parish


     The University of Oklahoma began life at Norman in 1892, but it developed slowly, and no thought was given to a Catholic ministry for the young men attending the school until the early years of the twentieth century.  The impetus for that, such as it was, came from the lay members of the parish, because the longtime pastor at Norman opposed secular education on principle and wanted nothing to do with the university.

      Only after his death in 1923, and the arrival of Bishop Kelley the next year, was any serious effort made to provide Catholic chaplaincy for the OU students.  The students themselves formed a Newman Club in 1920; their first official act was to petition the bishop for a separate university parish.  As late as 1961, though, the pastor of St. Joseph's in Norman was strenuously opposing any formal division of his parish.

      In 1921 the Norman council of the Knights of Columbus built a house, costing $12,000, at 535 University Boulevard.  It is not entirely clear what the pupose of this house was to be, but it became a dormitory for male Catholic students and was known as Columbia Hall.  Title of the property passed to Bishop Kelley in 1925.  At the same time, the Bishop contracted with the Sisters of Divine Providence to build Newman Hall for Catholic female students.  This three-story facility opened at the corner of Boyd and Chautauqua in February 1926.

      Work then began on a chapel next door to Newman Hall.  The bishop obtained a grant from Catholic Extension to pay for the chapel.  One of Extension's donors was a Chicago woman who had attached to her donation the condition that a church built with her funds be named for a title in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin, Mother Most Admirable -in Latin, Mater Admirabilis.  (The graceful little chapel with the unwieldy name still stands;  it was sold in 1978 and is now a private residence, resulting from an innovative conversion that was featured on the Home and Garden Channel.)

      The Viatorian Fathers from Chicago took charge of the chapel for a few years, then a friend of Bishop Kelly's from Detroit, Father Joseph Hallissey, served as chaplain until his death in 1951.  In 1959 Father Ernest Flusche was appointed chaplain.  He immediately requested a change of the chapel's name, which was approved the next year.  Henceforth, the Catholic ministry at OU would be under the patronage of St. Thomas More.

      The original Catholic student complex had been located close to the student housing of that period.  By the early 1960's, however, the university was moving these facilities to the south and west.  At the same time a new Catholic parish was being planned for the Oklahoma State University campus at Stillwater, and so it followed that a similar plan be enacted at Norman.  In 1966 the process began when St. Thomas More was canonically erected as a parish independent of St. Joseph's.

      Once again, however, the project stalled.  A combination of factors was at fault, but they came down to the unsettled condition of society and the Church at the time.  Money and personnel were at a premium, all the more so since it was obvious that the Diocese would have to subsidize the entire project.  The students could not be expected to carry the financial burden.

      In 1973, the Diocese was divided.  The commitment to campus ministry shaped the diocesan boundary; the new Archdiocese of Oklahoma City would continue to be responsible for the Norman students, while the Diocese of Tulsa would take over the Stillwater ministry, along with its sizable debt and operating expense.  On paper, the Tulsa diocese has a gerrymandered appearance, as it's boundary swings out from the eastern third of the state to include Payne County.

      Father William Ross arranged for the purchase of property on Stinson Street between Lincoln and Jenkins, but in 1976 the university Parish was entrusted to the Friars of the Atonement, and in 1977 the Parish contracted with Raymond Yeh, a member of the university faculty, to design a new Catholic student center.  Father Michael Graham, S.A., was pastor during the construction period, which culminated on September 23, 1979, when Archbishop Charles Salatka dedicated the new facilities.

     At the time the new building was completed, the current St. Thomas More facility, it was estimated that there were 2000 Catholic students at the university, along with some fifty faculty members and their families.  In 1981, the St. Thomas More pastorate returned to the care of the diocesan clergy.  Today, there are over 6000 Catholic students and 200 Catholic faculty members.



St. Thomas More

Saint, knight, Lord Chancellor of England, author and martyr, born in London, 7 February, 1477-78; executed at Tower Hill, 6 July, 1535.
Thomas More was the sole surviving son of Sir John More, barrister and later judge, by his first wife Agnes, daughter of Thomas Graunger. Thomas, after a thorough grounding in religion and the classics, entered Oxford to study law. Upon leaving the university he embarked on a legal career which took him to Parliament. In 1505, he married his beloved Jane Colt who bore him four children, and when she died at a young age, he married a widow, Alice Middleton, to be mother for his young children. A wit and a reformer, this learned man numbered Bishops and scholars among his friends, and by 1516 wrote his renowned book "Utopia". He attracted the attention of King Henry VIII who appointed him to a succession of high posts and missions, and finally made him Lord Chancellor in 1529. However, he resigned in 1532 at the height of his career and reputation, when Henry persisted in holding opinions regarding marriage and papal supremacy in opposition to Church teaching. The rest of his life was spent in writing, mostly in defense of the Church. In 1534, with his close friend St. John Cardinal Fisher, he refused to render allegiance to the King as the Head of the Church of England and was confined to the Tower. Fifteen months later, and nine days after St. John Fisher's execution, he was tried and convicted of treason. He told the court that he could not go against his conscience and wished his judges that "we may yet hereafter in heaven merrily all meet together to everlasting salvation." And on the scaffold, he told the crowd of spectators that he was dying as "the King's good servant - but God's first." He was beheaded on July 6, 1535. His feast day is June 22nd (shared with St. John Cardinal Fisher).

Thomas More was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1935 and is popularly considered the patron saint of attorneys, court clerks, and civil servants.

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