Catholic nuns and his grandparents’ example helped instill in Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas the belief that all people were children of God and that the racist flaws of American society were a betrayal of its best promises, he said in a lecture Thursday.

“My nuns and my grandparents lived out their sacred vocation in a time of stark racial animus, and did so with pride with dignity and with honor. May we find it within ourselves to emulate them,” Justice Thomas said at the University of Notre Dame Sept. 16.

“To this day I revere, admire and love my nuns. They were devout, courageous and principled women.”

Thomas, only the second Black Supreme Court justice, delivered the Tocqueville Lecture at the invitation of the Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government, a new Notre Dame initiative that focuses on discussions and scholarship related to Catholicism and the common good.