St. Thomas More Award and Annual Dinner
As noted in the early history chapter, the first Award Dinner almost didn’t happen. At one of its very first meetings ever, the Executive Committee debated the idea of an award dinner and concluded that it was too late to plan the right kind of dinner for spring 1989 and that it would be best to plan one in 1990. However, Executive Committee member Harvey Rubenstein asked the Executive Committee to reconsider. He believed that the Society should establish itself with a high profile event on a grand scale. He was a good salesman. At the next Executive Committee meeting in March 1989, he persuaded the Executive Committee to authorize the planning and holding of such an award dinner just two months later in May. By acclaim, the Executive Committee approved the selection of the Honorable Collins J. Seitz, Sr. to receive the award. Dinner plans were hurriedly carried out.
On May 13, 1989, many lawyers in formal attire attended 5:00 Mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral celebrated by Monsignor Taggart, then repaired to the Rodney Square Club in the heart of Wilmington for a reception and dinner. More than 150 guests attended, including Bishop Mulvee, Chancellor and Mrs. Seitz, and Chief Justice and Mrs. Andrew D. Christie. Professor Diana Hays from Georgetown University’s Department of Theology was the guest speaker. Justice Joseph T. Walsh presented Chancellor Seitz with the first St. Thomas More Award. The stellar event was everything the Executive Committee hoped it would be and set a standard for the dinners that followed.
The next two dinners were held at the Wilmington Country Club, and they honored United States District Judge Murray M. Schwartz and legal aid attorney Mary McDonough, respectively.
After several awards were made by acclamation, the Executive Committee developed formal criteria by which St. Thomas More Award recipients were to be selected. Those criteria are:
- Strong and pervasive sense of justice
- Personal courage and conviction
- Commitment to law, community and religion
- Keen scholarly pursuits and advancement of knowledge
- High degree of intelligence, honesty and integrity, humility and humor
- Record of personal sacrifice for the good of the community
- Dedicated to children, spouse, family and associates
The dinner in 1992 honored the Society’s guiding spirit, Monsignor Paul J. Taggart. An overflow dinner was held at the University of Delaware’s Arsht Hall in Wilmington. Father William Byron, president of the Catholic University of America, spoke and presented the award to Monsignor Taggart, who had served as a trustee of Catholic University.
In 1997, the Executive Committee voted to rename the Society’s annual award the “Monsignor Paul J. Taggart St. Thomas More Award” in honor of the Society’s inspirational founder and chaplain emeritus. Typically modest, Monsignor Taggart resisted the effort, but the Executive Committee proudly made the change.
In May 2000, Bishop Robert Mulvee, who as Bishop of Wilmington set in motion the events leading to the creation of the Society, returned to Wilmington from Rhode Island and was presented the Society’s award.
A particular highlight among the award dinners was the event in May 2001. At a dinner honoring E. Norman Veasey, Chief Justice of Delaware, with the award, Justice Antonin Scalia of the United States Supreme Court spoke. The largest crowd in the event’s history attended.
In May 2008, the Society honored then Bishop Michael A. Saltarelli, who as Bishop was a strong supporter of and good friend to the Society.