St. Thomas More Co-Cathedral
The Roman Catholic Church for Students
By Ari Marsh, Fall 2015
The St. Thomas More Co-Cathedral is a Roman Catholic Church located at 900 West Tennessee Street, Tallahassee, Florida, which is across the street from the Florida State University's main campus. St. Thomas More has the Catholic Mass daily at various times, and is a fairly popular church to members of the Catholic faith in Tallahassee and the colleges. While St. Thomas More has not been around for centuries, it is still a prominent church in Tallahassee. It is the Co-cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, and is the parish church.
While St. Thomas More was not officially founded until 1968, its roots were already forming when the Diocese of St. Augustine was created in 1870, which is also the first parish in the United States. Much of the Diocese was far west of St. Augustine, so Tallahassee fell under their district. More than a hundred years later, in 1975, the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee was created with Bishop Rene Gracida as the first presiding bishop. However, St. Thomas More's beginnings date back to the 1930s, and includes the Florida State College for Women through the Newman Club, which is a center that provides for Catholic ministry at non-Catholic universities. The club is still very involved today. The congregation would work very closely with the Newman club, and would conduct masses in the Student Alumni Room. In 1950, the first student center was built, only a block away from the Florida State campus, which becmae coeducational in 1947 due to the high volumes of World War II veterans returning. This center had a student chapel and meeting rooms which allowed for a valuable resource for students and the community. It was always in the plans for the church to be close to the students in the local area, overlooking the university and slowly the valuable land was bought over time. This was a difficult process because many of the land owners around the church did not want to sell their land to the church, but with the help of the community, the church would eventually be able to own the land which it sits on today.
With this land, the Diocese decided they were going to build a large chapel in which masses would be held, and they designed a chapel with a capacity of almost 1,000 people. While the chapel was being built, Florida State allowed the masses to be held on campus until it was completed. The building of the church and its associated buildings began December 4, 1965. With the chapel, they also planned to build a nearly 96 foot bell tower, which would symbolize the cross which Spaniards planted in Florida during the 16th century. The chapel would also feature stain glassed windows, which would set it apart from just any other ordinary church or chapel.
Inside the chapel, there are relics, which is a tradition in Catholicism. A relic is usually a physical remain of a saint that has been preserved for the purpose of veneration. It is important to note that the relics are venerated and not worshipped or idolized, because this would go against the Catholic faith. In the altar at the St. Thomas More Co-Cathedral, there were to be believed relics of Saint Pius X and Saint Maria, but with closer inspection by opening the altar, it was discovered that the relics located there are actually the relics of St. Felix and St. Felicity. The relics are important because they bring a spiritual aura to the church and are believed to act as mediators between God and our world through the saints which the relics are from. It was on October 8, 1967 when the chapel could officially be used when it was blessed and dedicated to the university community by the Archbishop. The Archbishop also said during the blessing “This chapel and particularly the tower is a thing of beauty that rises above the limitations of matter and space and time that invites the human spirit to soar in its quest for God.” The completion of the chapel was not only historic for the church, and diocese, but also the community around it.
In 1968, the bishop of St. Augustine promoted the chapel to a student parish and seven years later on October 7, 1975, the student center would also be promoted to the Co-Cathedral of the Pensacola-Tallahassee diocese. Now, St. Thomas More Co-Cathedral is an active community who helps around Tallahassee, and have over 35 active ministries that support the parish, which include things from religious youth education to music. The church also that the Monsignor Kerr Library, which is a resource dedicated to religious education which has spiritual writings, photographs and artifacts from William A. Kerr, a former pastor of St. Thomas More. From the Newman club to now continuing with the Catholic Student Union, St. Thomas More has always been a part of the Catholic Students here in Tallahassee and the community.
As the church is located in the capital of Florida, it has a special and annual event called The Red Mass, which is celebrated for the judges, law school professors, students, government officials, and attorneys. This mass asks for guidance from the Holy Spirit to help them in their profession of the law. Early this year on March 4, 2015, St. Thomas More hosted its 40th Red Mass which Governor Rick Scott attended, and with it came some local publicity on the news. During this mass, it is tradition to wear red, as symbolism of the willingness to shed blood in the pursuit to defend the truth.
St. Thomas More Co-Cathedral is a church that has only been founded a few decades ago, but has had a role in the Tallahassee community and the students’ lives since even before its founding. With its main goal of helping those in need, it also has played a role with our local government, and I believe is something it will continue to do in the future.
St. Thomas More Mission Statement
The Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More is a community of believers in the Lord Jesus - clergy, brothers, sisters & laity-each with their own gifts from the Spirit. The Co-Cathedral strives to foster a common bond of loving friendship; to preserve, deepen and spread the Catholic faith and to meet the spiritual, educational, material and social needs of its people. The Co-Cathedral recognizes its special commitments: As the Co-Cathedral, to serve the people of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. As a Student Center, to serve the students, faculties and staffs of all our local colleges. As a parish, to serve our families, youth, elderly and alienated. As a Christian community, to preach the Good News and to reach out to all in need of compassionate friendship.