John Fisher was born in Beverly, Yorkshire England in 1469, and entered Cambridge University at 14. Ordained a priest, he became chancellor of Cambridge in 1504 and Bishop of Rochester, the poorest diocese in England, that same year. He attracted some of the leading scholars of Europe to the university and his learning, holiness and pastoral dedication caused the young king, Henry VIII, to say there was no better bishop in all the world.
When Henry sought to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, John Fisher strongly upheld the validity of their union. Furious at Fisher’s opposition to the Oath of Supremacy that stated Henry was the head of the English church, Henry had him arrested and imprisoned in 1534. “Not that I condemn anyone else’s conscience,” Fisher said, “ Their conscience may save them, and mine must save me.”
While in prison, Pope Paul III made Fisher a cardinal. After 10 months in jail, he went to his death, carrying with him a copy of the New Testament. To the crowd gathered for his execution, he proclaimed his faith in the Catholic Church and asked for their prayers. Then he recited the Te Deum and the psalm “ In you I hoped, O Lord.” He was beheaded on June 22, 1535.
His execution, two days before the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist caused many to see him following courageously his namesake, who condemned Herod’s attempted marriage to Herodias, He was canonized along with Thomas More by Pope Pius XI on May 19, 1935. His feast, with Thomas More, is celebrated today by the Church of England on July 6.
The Roman Catholic Church celebrates the joint feast of John Fisher and Thomas More on June 22.