Catholic lawyer's group seeks to expand membership

By Paul Janczewski

Legal News

St. Thomas More, the patron saint of lawyers and judges, has been described as a brilliant statesman, a witty writer, and a martyr.

But in his youth one of his un-saintly endeavors including writing bawdry poetry.

Now, almost five centuries after his death, the Catholic Lawyers Guild of the Diocese of Lansing honors one of its own each year with an award that is named after More and best exemplifies how the honoree has modeled his life on the teachings and examples set by the revered saint.

Warts and all.

"We're not looking for perfection by any means," said Thomas Brennan Jr., current president of the Guild, "but to ability to overcome whatever challenges you might have to become the best you can be."

The Guild was organized in 1985 and takes part in the Red Mass, part of the event that bestows the St. Thomas More Award on a worthy individual.

Red Mass tradition dates back centuries ago as a ceremony to open a judicial year of a major Christian tribunal, and earned the color designation from the red vestments worn by ministers.

The tradition was inaugurated in 1928 in America, and carries on now in many cities, according to the Guild's website.

The Guild recently celebrated the 25th Red Mass in Lansing at St. Mary Cathedral, with Bishop Earl Boyea as the celebrant, and named Lansing attorney Patrick Van Tiflin the recipient of the St. Thomas More Award.

Van Tiflin is a partner in the tax appeals department of the Honigman, Miller, Schwartz and Cohn firm.

"I think Pat embodies the kind of lawyer that we as a Guild wish to honor who exemplifies the attributes and characteristics St. Thomas More," Brennan said.

"We are extremely proud to highlight his professional accomplishments and honor his deep Catholic faith."

The first St. Thomas More Award handed out here was to Gov. G. Mennen Williams in 1986, the only non-Catholic, Brennan said.

Over the years, winners have included Michigan Supreme Court Justices Michael Cavanagh and Thomas Brennan Sr., and United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Judge James L. Ryan.

"You don't have to be an attorney to receive the award," Brennan said.

"It's been a nice mix of lawyers and clergy, and is given to the person who the exemplifies the qualities and attributes we see in St. More.

"We like to seek out Catholic lawyers who have lived their lives and their faith in a way that makes us all proud."

A committee of board members and former recipients get together to select and discuss possible nominees for the award.

Brennan sees it more as a lifetime achievement reserved for elder statesmen of the profession.

Brennan said the Guild also sponsors annual retreats for lawyers, and sponsors speakers at a spring luncheon.

It has about 300 members, but Brennan said he'd like to see it grow to include lawyers and judges in other areas of the Lansing Diocese.

"I'd like to foster a bit of expansion," Brennan said.

"It's much too provincial, we're much 'too Lansing,' and we need to get the word out that the Guild represents an area that includes Jackson, Washtenaw, Livingston and Genesee counties."

In an effort to reach a wider audience, Brennan said the Guild is working with the State Bar of Michigan to procure special purpose recognition as an affiliate.

He believes if the Guild is able to secure that, it would help membership and increase its visibility.

Brennan just wants to meet you in Lansing.

Membership is open to all attorneys, not just the Catholics, he said, and membership is a reasonable $15 per year.

Information on the Guild can be obtained by contacting Sr. Joan Meerschaert at (517) 484-5332, or by e-mailing jmeerschaert@dioceseoflansing.org.

Published: Thu, Feb 10, 2011

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