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St John Fisher Primary, a Catholic Voluntary Academy, Sheffield
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SJF Feast Day: The Life of St John Fisher

17th Jun 2024
Who was St John Fisher?

John Fisher was born in Yorkshire, in 1469, the son of a simple cloth dealer who was ambitious for him. John Fisher loved learning and when he was 14 years of age, he left home and started studying at Cambridge University. He worked hard and did well. Eventually he became a distinguished scholar! 

When he was 22 (in 1491) he became a priest and carried on working at the university He rose through the ranks to become vice-chancellor, ten years later. John Fisher did lots to improve the university, and in 1504 he became its chancellor. He was also appointed as the new Catholic Bishop of Rochester in the same year. 

Many liked his ideas for improving education and were impressed by his passionate preaching. Bishop John Fisher loved reading and collected lots of books. In fact, it was said, by some at the time, that this humble son of a Yorkshire cloth dealer, had one of the finest private libraries in the whole of Europe! 

Bishop Fisher was chaplain to Lady Margaret Beaufort, Henry VIII’s grandmother, and was probably, for a time, one of Henry’s teachers when he was a boy. King Henry VIII had once been an enthusiastic Catholic but a while after becoming King, he fell out with the Pope over plans to divorce Queen Catherine so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. The king therefore started to make plans to set up a Church of England, separate to the Pope, that would support his plans. This worried Bishop John Fisher who tried hard to change the king’s mind. Unfortunately, the king was very determined and so the two argued. Bishop John Fisher defended the traditional Catholic teachings against Henry’s new ideas and Protestant reformers in other universities. 

Bishop Fisher was so against the King's plans to divorce Queen that he became one of Queen Catherine’s most trusted friends and advisors. The things that Bishop John Fisher was saying really angered the King who never forgave him. Bishop John Fisher spoke against the king’s plans to divorce Queen Catherine; to establish a Church of England; and attack the Catholic church, in the House of Lords, which again infuriated the King.

When Pope Clement VII refused to support the King’s plans to end his marriage to Queen Catherine, Henry declared himself Head of the Church of England, instead of the Pope, ending the Pope’s authority in England. Now that he was in charge, the King declared that his marriage to Queen Catherine was over.

When Bishop Fisher refused to support the changes or promise to promise to accept the King as the new head of the Church in England, he was arrested and sent to the Tower of London, where he stayed for over a year. The conditions were terrible, and John Fisher suffered terribly during his imprisonment there.

Whilst was in prison the new Pope decided to make Bishop Fisher a Cardinal. He hoped that this would mean that Henry would be kinder to him. Sadly, it had the opposite effect, making King Henry very angry.

Cardinal Fisher was put on trial for treason, found guilty and condemned to death. On June 22, 1535 he was taken from his cell (in the Bell Tower) to be executed. He was so weak that he had to be helped. As he climbed the scaffold, still holding a copy of the Bible, he prayed for his country and for king Henry VIII…

“Christian people, I am come hither to die for the faith of Christ's Catholic Church...
Wherefore I desire you to help me, and assist me with your prayers,
that at the very point and instant of death's stroke,
and in the very moment of my death,
I then faint not in any point of the faith.
And I pray, God save the king and the realm.”

It is reported that Cardinal Fisher met death calmly, with dignity and courage. Many who watched were impressed. Above is a painting of St John Fisher dressed as a cardinal. He never actually wore the red clothes of a Cardinal, because he was in a freezing and filthy cell, starved, sick and surrounded by rats. He is a martyr because he died for his faith and became a saint in 1935. As a community we are proud that he is our patron.

Our own school was established by the Jesuits of Spinkhill in 1956, when the area was part of Derbyshire. The foundation stone was moved and is visible in the playground. School opened in September 1957, looking very different to today. I was appointed in 2012 as the fifth Headteacher. I am grateful to all my predecessors, but especially to Mr McGurrin, our third Headteacher, who served for twenty-five years, until 2007. He continues to offer us such tremendous support, and remains a very valued and special friend of our school community.