Red Mass honors those in the legal profession

Attorney Tom Wilson receives an award at the reception after the Red Mass

Warren native Thomas Wilson, who has long practiced civil law in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, is the recipient of the St. Thomas More Society’s high honor, the Lex Christi Award.

Wilson received the accolade at the Youngstown Diocese’s 27th annual Red Mass for judges and lawyers on October 13 in St. Columba Cathedral and at a banquet immediately following the Mass in the cathedral hall.

Group shot of lawyers and judges with bishop bonnar at the Red Mass, 2023.

The Lex Christi (Law of Christ) Award was established by Bishop Thomas Tobin to recognize the exemplary man or woman in the legal profession for his or her commitment to the high ideals of the profession and the needs of the local community. The Law of Christ reveals God’s standards for truth and justice toward the wellbeing of the human family.

The tradition of the Red Mass goes back many centuries, however, in Rome, Paris and London. It opens the judicial year of the sacred Roman Rota, the Tribunal of the Holy See at the Vatican. The name “Red Mass” is derived from the color of the vestments worn by ministers honoring this, a Mass of the Holy Spirit. The color is also a reminder of fire, which symbolizes God’s spirit.

During the local Mass, Father John Sheridan, pastor of Divine Mercy Parish in Massillon and adjunct judicial vicar for the diocese, pointed out in his homily that, as related in the Lord’s Prayer, there are two separate realms—the kingdom of earth and the kingdom of heaven. “The earthly kingdom belongs just as much to God as the heavenly kingdom,” he said.

Father Sheridan delivers the homily at the Red Mass

However, he said, “Every kingdom divided against itself will fall,” referencing the “Holy Land fraught with tension and violence.”

“We must put aside these earthly divisions,” he stated, adding, “The kingdom of God is one … We are all a part of it.”

Speaking to lawyers and judges in the crowd, Father Sheridan, who completed his licentiate of canon law degree at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in July, said that as “ministers of justice” they must “strive to find the truth.” He explained that they could model their brands of justice “after God, the eternal judge.”

As members of the bar “come to our legal aid,” Father Sheridan said, “May the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, come to your aid.” He called their world “a kingdom of justice, love and peace on earth that it is in heaven.”

Afterward, Bishop David Bonnar, principal celebrant of the Red Mass, prayed to the “good and loving God, you are the just judge.” He called those present “the agents of Your (God’s) kingdom here on earth.”

In the Prayers of the Faithful, peace in the Ukraine and the Holy Land figured prominently. Also mentioned were members of the bar who had passed away recently.

Bishop Bonnar speaks to those in attendance after the Red Mass

Attendees had several reactions to the Mass.

For example, attorney J. Michael Thompson of Poland said that “Father Sheridan’s message was directly to the point.” He emphasized that the Holy Spirit really “is our advocate.”

Mahoning County Probate Judge Robert N. Rusu, Jr., said the Mass provided “an opportunity to pause and appreciate what we have, to renew our faith and just slow down.”

Rosalie Vincent of Warren, who attends Blessed Sacrament there, said she “loves the pomp and circumstance.” She added, “Where can you get a group of extra holy people all in one Mass?”

At the luncheon, Monsignor John Zuraw opened with a prayer that members of the bench and bar would “know Your will and do it.”

Speaking again, Bishop Bonnar called the Red Mass a “rich tradition” first celebrated locally in 1997 in St. Columba Cathedral, “the mother church of this diocese.” He also said the Thomas More Society—30 members and chairman Monsignor Robert Siffrin strong—represents “the highest ideals of our faith.”

Monsignor Robert Siffrin speaks at the reception after the Red Mass

Also at the luncheon, Monsignor Siffrin encouraged attendees to “make your faith visible in the communities in which we live.”

In the closing prayer for the luncheon, Father Martin Celuch, encouraged those present to “pray for justice” and “live in harmony.”

Wilson, who quipped that he opted out of making a speech for the luncheon “to make you all very happy,” said in an interview that he was “very much surprised” when he received the call from Monsignor Siffrin that he had won the Lex Christi Award. “Many others are more deserving than I,” he commented.

He differentiated between “aspirational values” professionals have as faithful Catholics and those “in their professional lives who actually in their dealings act on those values and follow through with them.”

“And I am surprised and honored that they would think that I follow with those values. It is quite an honor to have others believe you are not only saying but doing what you are supposed to be doing,” Wilson stated.

Wilson, who practices with the law firm of Comstock, Springer & Wilson Co., L.P.A., in Youngstown, is a member of the Mahoning County, Trumbull County, Ohio and American bar associations. Wilson was a trustee and past president of the Mahoning County Bar, and he remains active in committee work. In addition, he is a fellow in both the International Society of Barristers and the American College of Trial Lawyers. Recently identified as one of The Best Lawyers in America, Wilson is a life fellow of the Ohio State Bar Association.

Wilson and his wife, Joann, with whom he will celebrate 50 years of marriage in December, are longtime members of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Warren, where he serves on the parish finance committee.

Wilson attended St. Mary Elementary School and graduated from John F. Kennedy High School in Warren. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in economics from Villanova University in 1972 and a law degree from the University of Toledo in 1976. He was associate editor of the law review there.

In additional to his lawyerly associations, Wilson has been involved in many community activities in Warren, including serving as a longtime board member of Mercy Health Hospice.

The Wilsons have four children—all John Carroll University graduates—and 10 grandchildren.

For the Red Mass, Deacon Mark Izzo served; Deacon William Bancroft, master of ceremony; diocesan priests, concelebrants; Ralph Holtzhauser, diocesan music director; and Barb Zorn, cantor. Readings were proclaimed by Attorney John McNally III and Michael Accurso. The Knights of Columbus were present, and servers represented Cardinal Mooney High School.

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Karen S. Kastner

Karen S. Kastner

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