November 12, 2021

Red Mass, award winner remind legal professionals of ‘truth in eternal law’

Former U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks poses with Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, left, and Marion County Superior Court Judge David Certo after receiving the Woman for All Seasons Award bestowed upon her by the Saint Thomas More Society of Central Indiana during a reception at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis on Oct. 5. (Submitted photo by Kim Pohovey)

Former U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks poses with Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, left, and Marion County Superior Court Judge David Certo after receiving the Woman for All Seasons Award bestowed upon her by the Saint Thomas More Society of Central Indiana during a reception at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis on Oct. 5. (Submitted photo by Kim Pohovey)

By Natalie Hoefer

Legal professionals from law students to judges—Catholic and non-Catholic—gathered at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Oct. 5 for Saint Thomas More Society of Central Indiana’s annual Red Mass.

For those in the legal field, going to the Mass is “an important thing to do,” said James Sweeney, United States District Court judge for the Southern District of Indiana, who has attended the Mass for 24 consecutive years. “It’s the Church praying for us to make sure that justice is done,” added the member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis.

The Mass was hosted by the society, whose mission “is to encourage Catholic lawyers, judges and law students to grow in the practice of our faith and to work with other legal professionals to promote justice and ethical behavior in our community,” according to its website.

At a reception following the Mass, the organization honored former Indiana Fifth District U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks with its Woman for All Seasons Award.

“I have to say, there are really no words to express how humbled I am to receive this award,” said Brooks, a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis.

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson welcomed her and those of all faiths at the beginning of the Red Mass.

‘Nothing trumps the common good’

Quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the archbishop noted in his homily that “all law finds its first and ultimate truth in the eternal law” (#1951) and that “moral law finds its fullness and its unity in Christ. Jesus Christ … is the end of the law, for only he teaches and bestows the justice of God” (#1953).

While the law involves “rights and responsibilities for the sake of individuals, families and communities,” said Archbishop Thompson, “nothing ultimately trumps the common good.

“The bottom line for us as Catholics, whether serving in the civil or canonical field of law, is keeping before us Jesus Christ as the end of the law, the ultimate teacher of the law and bestower of justice.”

For baptized Christians working in the legal field, he said, “it is more than a profession. It is a means by which to live out one’s call to holiness and mission.”

The archbishop reminded those present that “there are circumstances to be weighed and considered in any given case or situation. It is one thing to know the law. It is another to know how to apply it justly and, as the Church exhorts, with mercy. ...

“Not every situation or case is the same, but the manner in which we approach each one deserves that same, steadfast perspective in faith and respect for the dignity of life.”

Regardless of one’s role in the legal realm, the archbishop urged those present to keep before them “the person of Jesus Christ as the supreme master of justice and fulfillment of all law.

“Let us take opportunities to sit with him in prayer, Scripture and sacrament so that those entrusted to our care will benefit from the wisdom and knowledge gained in our service of the law.”

‘Arbiters of the truth’

Those who attended the Mass had time to socialize at a reception prior to Brooks receiving her award. It was the first time in two years that Red Mass attendees were able to gather after the Mass, due to precautions last year to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“I always look forward to celebrating the Red Mass, which is celebrated for the purpose of seeking

God’s guidance in the administration of justice,” said Nancy Gargula, a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis who works for the U.S. Department of Justice. She has served on the board of the Saint Thomas More Society of Central Indiana for 40 years.

“The fact that [the Mass is] attended by judges and members of the bar from all faiths—notwithstanding the fact that of course it is a Catholic Mass—I think brings meaning to all members of the legal profession.”

Father Timothy Wyciskalla, who earned a licentiate in canon law in Rome in 2019 and serves part time for the archdiocesan Metropolitan Tribunal, was named chaplain of the Saint Thomas More Society of Central Indiana just days before the Red Mass. He explained that the timing of the event coincides with the beginning of the U.S. Supreme Court’s legal season.

With the Red Mass, he said, “We are able to come and at least begin the federal judicial season by acknowledging that in all things we seek to be arbiters of the truth and of bringing forth justice and mercy, and these are all things that are very much in line with our Catholic beliefs as well.”

‘Strength in my new role’

Before receiving her Woman for All Seasons Award, Brooks shared “a little bit about the seasons of my career and how the role of the Catholic faith has impacted me and my family.”

Her career started in 1985 as a criminal defense lawyer. From 1998-1999, she served as deputy mayor of Indianapolis, followed by two years working for the Indianapolis-based Ice Miller law firm.

In 2001, then-president George W. Bush appointed her as U.S Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana. She had still not been confirmed in that role when the tragedy of Sept. 11 occurred.

Brooks had just left a meeting when she saw the second plane hit the south tower of the World Trade Center on television.

“I went back to the meeting to share the news, and someone said, ‘Good luck on your new job, Susan.’ That really hit me,” she recalled.

Later that day when she picked up her children from St. Monica School in Indianapolis, she attended a special Mass for students and parents celebrated in St. Monica Church.

“I remember feeling in Mass that day that God was going to watch over me, that my family would be safe, we would be protected and that he would give me strength in my new role if I continued to stay near God and trust and count on him,” she said.

Finding common ground, kindness and being peacemakers

Brooks served as a U.S. Attorney through 2007. After working in leadership for Ivy Tech Community College until 2011, Brooks ran for and was elected as the U.S. representative for Indiana’s fifth district. She ran again and won in 2016.

“My greatest legislative successes—and we got a lot of bills signed into law—wouldn’t have been possible without my partners on the other side of the aisle,” she said. “Yet these same partners were often people I disagreed with on maybe 70% of their voting record. … But we would find things we agreed on.

“Why I bring that up is because your adversaries aren’t always your adversaries. If you get to know people … you will find that you have so much more in common with them. … It’s this type of civility and compassion for others that I think demonstrates God’s love and what we are supposed to do as lawyers.”

Brooks also spoke about the importance of those in the legal profession being peacemakers.

“I believe we can’t just talk about peace as lawyers,” she said. “It’s in taking the actions that promote harmony and peace that are difficult yet so necessary, and today more than ever.”

As an example, she shared how she and her staff would focus on lavishing kindness upon all who “lined up to talk with us one-on-one” at events.

“From 2013 through 2019, they came to talk with us about their disapproval, whether it was President [Barack] Obama or President [Donald] Trump or Congress,” she recalled. “Some yelled, many were threatening, and it was clear to us their level of stress was very high.”

Before each of those events, said Brooks, “We discussed each and every time the importance of listening calmly and politely and peacefully. I can’t tell you what a difference that made.

“I ask you … to be peacemakers and to demonstrate the Christian principle of being loving,” she said. “Find a way to listen with compassion and with patience. I think you can find that common ground. … I think the world needs more peacemakers.”

(For more information about the Saint Thomas More Society of Central Indiana, visit

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