FORT WAYNE —Catholic leaders of northeast Indiana met on Wednesday to complete the formation of the St. Thomas More Society of Fort Wayne, a private association affiliated with the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, serving under the oversight of Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades.
After several months of planning, the society formally adopted its constitution and bylaws and elected its founding governors and officers. Father Mark A. Gurtner has been appointed chaplain by Bishop Rhoades.
“The society is a wonderful opportunity to honor and emulate St. Thomas More, the patron saint of attorneys, statesmen and politicians,” said Father Gurtner. “Indeed, his steadfast conviction in the face of death is a reminder for legal professionals to not forsake their private conscious for their public duties.”
Father Gurtner told Today’s Catholic of his duties to the society: “First not only have I been appointment chaplain, but as a canon lawyer, I enjoy membership in the society in my own right. I am also a founding member.”
“My duties as chaplain though will focus on the spiritual well being of the society,” he said. “I will offer Mass for the group periodically, seek to foster the spiritual life of its members, and be available as spiritual counsel for its members individually and for the group as a whole. I would also anticipate that I would serve to represent the society to the diocesan bishop and to represent the diocesan bishop to the society.”
The St. Thomas More Society is a Catholic professional association that promotes the mutual interaction of faith and culture in the realm of law and public policy. Any lawyer, member of the judiciary, canon lawyer, law professor or student at an ABA accredited law school residing, practicing, serving or studying primarily in the greater Fort Wayne area is eligible to apply for membership.
Magistrate Craig Bobay of the Allen Circuit Court and member of St. Jude Parish, Fort Wayne, said, “We hope to meet several times per year to discuss issues of faith and the legal profession, attend Mass together, pray together and help organize an annual Red Mass.”
“Catholic and non-Catholic lawyers and judges should join the society to explore the place for our Christian faith in the legal profession,” he encouraged.
Michael Barranda, an attorney with Burt-Blee-Dixon-Sutton and Bloom, LLP, and member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Fort Wayne, encouraged Catholics in the legal profession to consider joining the society.
“Legal professionals are required to take continuing education classes,” Barranda said. “In addition to fellowship, the society offers members educational opportunities that will strengthen both their faith and their practice.”
Father Gurtner added, “I would encourage those in the legal profession to join the society in order to seek even more fully to integrate their Catholic faith into their work. Also, membership in the society will serve to deepen their own faith because it will afford them access to special Masses offered for the society, will join them in the spiritual benefits of mutual prayer for each other in the society, will be a source of encouragement for the members to stay faithful to the tenets of the faith in the face of opposition, and will offer members continuing education in the faith and the legal profession through periodically-offered presentations.”
“Each of the founding governors is more than willing to speak with prospective members of the society,” Barranda noted. “Incidentally, we just happen to represent a great cross-section of the area parishes. Applications for membership are available through the Membership Chair, Chris Nancarrow.”
Attorney Tom Blee of Fort Wayne’s Burt-Blee-Dixon-Sutton and Bloom, LLP, firm, said the “society is being reenergized by Magistrate Craig Bobay and some associates with a new constitution, bylaws and a membership drive.”
Bobay told Today’s Catholic, “Bishop Rhoades has mentioned that a society existed in his previous diocese, and a few of us got together, and prepared a proposed framework for the group. We then presented it to the bishop, who gave us his blessing and encouraged us to identify people to make up an initial board of directors, and then plan to recruit members.”
Blee said in addition to preparing and hosting the annual Red Mass, a Mass for those in the legal profession, the society will arrange programs and activities related to the intellectual and religious growth of the members, as well as honor those professionals that represent the principles and ideals of St. Thomas More.
Blee said, “An essential goal of the group is to create a strong membership of attorneys, which will attract prominent speakers to the St. Thomas More Red Mass celebration, and promote the unity of the family, the dignity of the person and the justice of civil society — all traits exhibited by the life and death of this patron saint of statesmen, politicians and lawyers.”
Blee has been devoted to St. Thomas More since his admission to the law profession at age 45. He wears a St. Thomas More medal, and a painting of Thomas More hangs in his office. The painting is used at the Red Mass in Fort Wayne.
Blee said, “When something is demanded of me because of my faith — something which seems just too hard, or even unfair — I need only to think of St. Thomas More in his prison cell — and it doesn’t seem hard or unfair at all.”
The elected officers are president — Magistrate Judge Craig J. Bobay, Allen Circuit Court; vice president — Liz Brown, civil and domestic mediator; treasurer — Tom Niezer, Barrett & McNagny LLP; and Judge Michael J. Kramer, Noble Superior Court.
Founding governors also include: Kathleen Anderson — Barnes & Thornburg LLP, Michael Barranda — Burt, Blee, Dixon, Sutton & Bloom, LLP; Judge Thomas J. Felts — Judge, Allen Circuit Court; Scott Hall — Hall & Gooden, LLP; Judge Kent W. Kiracofe — Wells Circuit Court; Chris Nancarrow — chief deputy, Allen County Clerk of Courts.
Professionals interested in membership opportunities may contact Membership Chair Chris Nancarrow at [email protected].
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