by Magdalena Dajka, ’20
On February 7, 1478, a child was born on Milk Street in London, England, a child who was to become St. Thomas More. Since St. Thomas More’s feast day falls in late June, when the members of the college community are scattered all over the country, the College instead assembles to celebrate the birthday of its patron. After all, why not seize any opportunity to honor this great saint with jolly festivity? As Thomas More College President William Fahey says, we follow St. Thérèse in exclaiming, “I choose all!”
And so, in accord with the College’s venerable tradition, students and faculty assembled on the evening of Friday, February 7, for the Thomas More Birthday Banquet. With candles blazing on the tables and brightly-colored flags hanging from the ceiling, the cafeteria was transformed into a Renaissance banquet hall. Revelers arrived dressed in Renaissance garb; the array of gowns, cloaks, furs, and swords was a feast for the eye. Wine flowed; roast chicken, pork, potatoes, and vegetables were carried in on platters; and, according to the unspoken law of this feast, no utensils were allowed—everyone ate with their fingers. The feasting was interrupted now and again with a song, whether a madrigal performed by the student schola or a folk tune caught up by the whole community.
Then the bell rang, and everyone turned their eyes to Dr. Fahey as he rose to give a toast to our patron. He began by saying that since this was a birthday celebration, his speech would be more lighthearted than usual; accordingly, it was divided into three parts: pigs, monkeys, and fools. The pigs referred to Thomas More’s schoolboy years. Although he loved his studies, he could also laugh about them, and he relished the fact that the boys at St. Anthony’s School were called St. Anthony’s Pigs, because the school was located close to a pigyard, and occasionally random escaped pigs would wander through the schoolyard. Next, Thomas More had a monkey, but not only a monkey, a whole menagerie. His animals not only provided entertainment for More and his family, but also revealed how he loved to observe and learn from the natural world. Finally, Thomas More also loved fools. In his time, the fools who entertained wealthy families were often people with mental disabilities or physical deformities. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Thomas More truly did love fools; he showed great kindness to them and even helped several of them get out of legal difficulties. Dr. Fahey ended with an exhortation: “Enjoy your studies, observe the natural world, and be kind to those who may not be blessed with your intellectual capacity.”
The next event of the evening was the carrying in of the birthday cake, amid a blaze of sparklers and a chorus of “Auld Lang Syne.” It was truly a magnificent cake, composed of five tiers, with berries lining each level and a papier mâché monkey sitting on the top. Once everyone had eaten his fill, the merriment continued with the annual game of musical chairs, the most epic, uproarious game of musical chairs imaginable. First, each class competes in its own circle, and then, the winners of each respective class compete against each other. This year, the champion was Mr. Paul Harty of the freshman class, and the men carried him aloft to honor his victory. Peals of laughter still echoing through the banquet hall, the festivities could not simply come to an end. The students lined up to dance the Virginia Reel to a Renaissance tune, dancing until their breath was quite gone.
The celebrations constituted a worthy homage to the College’s patron. And indeed, St. Thomas More is our patron not only in name. As Dr. Fahey frequently reminds the students, the members of Thomas More College should not only bear the name of the great saint but also strive to imitate him. We learn from his writings and his example, and we try to live, as he did, a life of study and well-spent leisure, of discipline and charity, of mortification and merriment. In this way, festivities like the Thomas More Birthday Banquet too can aid us on the path towards God, so that one day, “we may merrily meet in heaven.”