Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas visited the University of Portland yesterday, speaking before its annual Red Mass in recognition of the nation's lawyers. Archbishop Alexander Sample, leader of the church in Western Oregon, celebrated the Mass.

Thomas' attendance was the fulfillment of a promise to university President Father William Beauchamp, who helped student and friend of Thomas', Dakota Garza, now a junior at the university work toward her nursing degree.

In 2011, Thomas called Father Beauchamp, telling him of a young woman he had met who had worked her way out of homelessness and was showing academic promise at Medford High School. Garza's dream was to attend the University of Portland’s nursing program, Thomas told him. She'd won a handful of scholarships, but not enough to cover $37,000 a year in tuition plus room and board.

Thomas asked Father Beauchamp if the university and the Horatio Alger Association could help make her dream a reality. They did.Garza was in the audience Thursday.

Thomas told stories about his youth, the court and his life.

He was raised in Pin Point, Ga., where he shared a one bedroom with his grandfather and brother, and ended up being appointed to the highest court in the United States.

“This job has an amazing way of humbling you,” Thomas said. “You realize how small you are when you’re sitting in your office alone, when you have read through all the briefs and you must vote. You don’t get to hem and haw. You must vote. You must decide.”

He also recalled drawing inspiration from the Irish nuns who taught him school, that African-Americans were inherently equal to white people.  

Archbishop Alexander Sample celebrated the Mass, asking attendees in the legal profession to make decisions and take actions that are formed in truth.

"There is an objective truth that holds for all people, whether they be persons of faith, or whether they have not yet come to a knowledge and acceptance of the God who created them and loves them," said Archbishop Sample. "We must then embrace that truth and form our conscience in conformity with that truth."

One of the most serious and damaging errors of all time, the archbishop said, is "to fail to see the reality of objective truth and instead to simply dismiss it as the imposition of religious belief."

"In the realm of moral objective truth, when Catholic public officials are tempted to say, 'Well, these are my personal beliefs as taught by the Church, but I cannot impose them on the rest of society,' they have completely missed the point," said Archbishop Sample.

"We are talking about the most fundamental truths of our human nature which we need for the promotion of the true dignity of the human person, the good of marriage and family life, and the good and order of society itself. They are binding on all of us, simply because we are human beings created in the image and likeness of God," he said. "The truth is what we seek. The truth is what we need. The truth, in the words of Jesus, will set us free."