Justice Clarence Thomas, The Rosary, and His First Homily as Priest

I love hearing a good story about the Rosary. Here's a great one, as told by Justice Clarence Thomas. It's part of an amazing and "unabashedly Catholic" commencement address that Justice Thomas recently gave at Christendom College. 

I also wanted to share with you a story about the time that I met Justice Thomas. I asked him, "If you had continued in seminary and become a priest, what would have been the subject of your first homily?" The answer is below, following the video. 


[The story about the Rosary begins about the 19:22 mark]

Wasn't that a great story? Want to hear another one?

FYI, I'm collecting stories like this for an upcoming book I'm compiling on the Rosary. The working title is "Amazing Things About the Rosary You Never Knew" or something like that.

You may have already heard portions of Justice Thomas' commencement address on Teresa Tameo's radio show or from Steve Ray. I'm glad to see it's getting around. 

My Time with Justice Thomas

The first coincidences ... 

Several years back, Justice Thomas visited my law school. One of his past law clerks had graduated from LSU, and she coordinated his visit. 

Providence saw fit that I won one of a few select seats to eat breakfast with Justice Thomas. Afterwards, the justice and I had a few moments together that were really special.

After breakfast, I gave Justice Thomas a collection of St. Thomas More's writings. These were St. Thomas' reflections on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the beginning of the Lord's Passion. Appropriately enough, St. Thomas wrote these as he was preparing for his own execution, his own passion. The book is titled The Sadness of Christ.

Justice Thomas took one look at the cover of the book, pointed to it, and said, "That's the painting that hangs in my office." 

The cover of the book was Hans Holbein's portrait of St. Thomas More:

That was the second coincidence ...

The day before the breakfast, there was a general assembly of all the students, so we could hear the justice speak. The justice also did a round of Q&A. All of us law students had been invited to submit questions to Justice Thomas. I jumped at the chance - I didn't know at the time that I would also get to have breakfast with him.

I knew that, like me, Clarence Thomas had attended seminary to be a Catholic priest. Also like me, he didn't make it all the way. We both dropped out to become lawyers, God help us. 

So I wrote the following question for him, because it was a question that I had often wondered about: 
If you had continued in seminary and become a priest, what would have been the subject of your first homily? 
Can you guess what he said?

Justice Thomas said that, if he had a chance to give that first homily, it would have been about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane

That was the third coincidence ... 

I had already decided to give Justice Thomas my copy of St. Thomas More's exegesis of the very same passage, The Sadness of Christ. I couldn't believe how perfect it was! 

Justice Thomas' chosen passage was the Garden of Gethsemane, and I was about to give him a book about that very same passage by his patron saint, who also happened to bear his name! Wow. What providence! 

I doubted Justice Thomas had even heard of The Sadness of Christ, because the title has been generally out of print over the last hundred or so years. I had stumbled upon my copy in a used book store. There are some copies available on Amazon, though, if you're interested. 

Justice Thomas was overjoyed to receive the book. It was a great moment. Providentially (again), there was a photographer on hand to capture it:


After I gave Justice Thomas the book, we connected about both being Catholic "seminary drop-outs," as he called it. Even after my wedding day and the birth of four children, it's still one of my fondest memories.

And to top it all off ...

He autographed a baseball for me. 

Did I mention ... the fourth coincidence? 

Justice Thomas is also a BIG sports fan! (Go Big Red!)

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7 Comments

  1. LOVED Justice Thomas's remarks about the rosary, on through to the end. I cannot wait to listen to the whole address!!

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    1. Isn't Justice Thomas awesome? To have had him and Scalia both on the court was an amazing coincidence, and hopefully one which will repeat.

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  2. The Rosary, St. Thomas More and Nebraska football. Does it get more holy than that?

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    1. Haha! Well put! ... Maybe Aggie football? ;)

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  3. Clarence Thomas was the only Black student in his seminary when Dr. King was murdered. His classmates were happy at Dr. King's death and Justice Thomas had had the last straw because of it. Just think, had those students been more supportive, and not racists, we would be talking about Fr. Clarence Thomas today...

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    1. *Catholic* seminarians were happy about Dr. King's death? Are you just making this up? Priests marched with King all the time.

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  4. Well, I'm kind of insulted that you think I am making this up.

    1) "Clarence Thomas also briefly attended Conception Seminary College, a Roman Catholic seminary in Missouri...In a number of interviews, Thomas stated that he left the seminary in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. He had over heard another student say after the shooting, 'Good, I hope the son of a bitch died.' He did not think the church did enough to combat racism."

    The bit I have quoted here can be found in Wikipedia. From there, you can consult the Wikipedia footnotes.

    2) There was a documentary on Clarence Thomas that aired in May 2020 on PBS entitled "Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words". I do not know what the schedule is like on your local PBS station, but here in DC, it aired only once. On YouTube, there are advertisements and a clip for the film, but you have to pay some service to view it.

    3) On YouTube, there is an interview with the filmmaker Michael Pack. The title of the video is "The Glenn Show: The Life and Times of Clarence Thomas" The story of Clarence Thomas in the seminary and the words you think I am making up can be found at 11:05.

    3) Clarence Thomas wrote his memoir entitled "My Grandfather's Son". I have not read that book, but I am certain that he mentions that incident.

    4) There *was* a New Hampshire-born seminarian who did more than march with Dr. King. His name was Jonathan Myrick Daniels. In August 1965, he was shot to death whilst trying to defend a 17 year old African American girl. You can see a film about him on YouTube entitled "Here Am I, Send Me: The Story of Jonathan Daniels". He was a 26 year old … Episcopalian.

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