Why I Consider Clarence Thomas and the Nuns Who Impressed Him Every MLK Day

Supreme Courtroom Justice Clarence Thomas is hailed by many for his inspiring life. However by way of all of it, good or dangerous, Thomas stays targeted on the essential issues in life.

He by no means has forgotten those that helped him alongside the best way. For a few years on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the justice would go to his eighth-grade instructor, Sister Mary Virgilius Reidy, and dozens of her fellow nuns, in a retirement convent in New Jersey. 

Clarence Thomas was born into abject poverty within the segregated Deep South to folks who had been poor and uneducated. His father left when he was 2, and he in the end was despatched to dwell along with his grandparents in Savannah, Georgia.

His grandfather enrolled Clarence and his brother in St. Benedict’s, a segregated, all-black, Catholic elementary college. It was run by the Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (most of them from Eire), who endured disparaging slurs, together with the N-word, for dedicating their lives to educating black college students.

“They wore that as a badge of honor,” Thomas recollects within the e-book “Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Personal Phrases,” which I co-edited with Michael Pack.  

The Franciscan nuns modified his life, and Thomas all the time has been grateful for his or her love and assist. The nuns held their college students to the best educational requirements, and didn’t permit them to make any excuse, regardless that these college students lived below state-enforced discrimination. 

As Thomas recounts in “Created Equal”: “You knew they cherished you. Once you assume someone loves you and deeply cares about your pursuits, someway they’ll get you to do laborious issues.”

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Within the Nineteen Eighties, when he was a part of the Reagan administration, Thomas sought out Sister Virgilius, who was residing in Boston. Thomas recollects: “I glided by to see her, and I sat along with her, and I thanked her for educating me and making me imagine that we might study, and for not letting me slip into sufferer standing and forcing me out of it.” 

In 1984, Thomas returned to his hometown of Savannah to pay tribute at an occasion honoring the Franciscan Sisters, the place he stated:  

There was no approach I might have survived if it had not been for the nuns—our nuns, who made me pray after I didn’t need to and didn’t know why I ought to—who made me work after I noticed no purpose to—who made me imagine within the equality of races when our nation paid lip service to equality and our church tolerated inequality—who made me settle for obligations for my very own life after I seemed for excuses. No, my mates, with out our nuns, I’d not have made it to sq. one.

Thomas once more thanked the nuns when he was nominated by President George H.W. Bush to the Supreme Courtroom in 1991, and Sister Virgilius, then 80 years outdated and nursing a damaged arm, later testified on behalf of her former pupil at his affirmation hearings. 

After Thomas joined the Supreme Courtroom, for a few years on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we would depart his house round 6 a.m. and drive as much as Tenafly, New Jersey, to spend the day with Sister Virgilius and her fellow sisters, a lot of whom additionally taught Thomas and others at St. Benedict’s.

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We had lunch within the cafeteria with all of the nuns, and Thomas’ face displayed such pleasure as he reminisced about these days and caught up on how the nuns had been all doing. He would go to sisters who had been bedridden within the infirmary. 

When Sister Virgilius handed away in 2013 at age 100, we attended her funeral collectively. 

In October 2021, many celebrated Thomas’ thirtieth anniversary on the Supreme Courtroom and his affect on American legislation, together with a daylong celebration at The Heritage Basis with remarks by the justice himself. However Thomas was extra targeted on an occasion earlier that week: the blessing of a statue of Sister Virgilius and two college students at a cemetery the place 200 Franciscan sisters are buried.

On a fantastic October day, in a small, non-public ceremony attended by greater than 20 nuns, a lot of whom had been of their 80s, together with family and friends members, Thomas greeted all of them with hugs and smiles.  

When he made his temporary remarks, Thomas fought by way of tears to thank the nuns who modified his life. It was a fantastic second that captured his humility.

“This extraordinary statue is devoted to you sisters—to all of you who’ve given a lot and who’ve requested for thus little,” he stated.

As Martin Luther King Jr. Day comes round yearly, I all the time consider how these nuns modified the course of Clarence Thomas’ life, and the way this nice man, our nation’s best Supreme Courtroom justice, all the time discovered time to honor those that helped him below essentially the most troublesome of circumstances.

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 It’s a compelling American story.

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