By ANDREW NELSON | Published June 19, 2019
Father Richard Morrow was no stranger to sign-waving Ku Klux Klan members.
The racist group in the 1960s hated both blacks and Catholics so the priest would be the focus of their ire.
“It was scandalous to me,” he said about the second-class status of African Americans.
A Yankee in the Peach State
Father Morrow died Saturday, June 15, following a long hospital stay as his aging body struggled to recover from a car crash. June 15 was also the day in 1955 he reported to Bishop Francis Hyland at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah to begin his ministry in Georgia.
At 89, Father Morrow was the longest-serving priest in the history of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. He was a priest for 64 years.
He was ordained in 1955 at St. Augustine Cathedral, Bridgeport, Connecticut, the year before then Diocese of Atlanta was formed. (It was then elevated to an archdiocese in 1962.) Father Morrow’s ordination took place in the cathedral in the photo.
A native of Connecticut, he never wanted to be a parish priest in Catholic rich New England. He desired to serve as a priest where the faithful were few in number and priests could be creative in their outreach and ministry. At the time, one diocese covered all of Georgia and he was one of some 40 diocesan priests.
And while he formally retired in 1997, you’d never know it. His tall, trim figure would make an appearance at nearly all archdiocesan events. He served as Vicar for Clergy, serving as both a listening ear to priests and also as their advocate with church leaders. He’d also play the part of visiting VIP at former parishes where he’d be shaking hands and greeting people and celebrating first Communions.
Father Morrow shared a message of God’s love.
That was how I had caught up with him on a cold night in December 2014. Catholic students at Carrollton’s University of West Georgia were celebrating a Mass at the campus’ Kennedy Chapel. He was chaplain to the small Catholic student community at its dedication, so it was natural for him to make the nearly 50-mile trip to spend time there.
As he recalled, protesters came out as Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy dedicated the white frame chapel with an exposed beam ceiling. This small building was memorialized in 1965 for the slain President John F. Kennedy, so his brother Robert accepted an invitation to speak. Father Morrow was the spiritual leader of the Carrollton parish Our Lady of Perpetual Help at the time and chaplain to students.
Sign-waving Ku Klux Klan members walked a picket line nearby opposing Kennedy, Father Morrow recalled in 2014.
“He, as attorney general, was very much pushing integration, plus they didn’t like Catholics either.”
At his celebration for this 60th ordination anniversary in 2015, parishioners told this story: St. Thomas the Apostle Church, which Father Morrow started, was once across the street from a subsidized housing community. During the 1960s, buses along the street refused to stop for black riders.
Father Morrow, who would have been in his mid-30s, and lay members of the young parish stood in the middle of the road and forced the bus to stop. As grateful as residents were for the help, the effort lead to protests from the Klan. But Father Morrow did not back down.
A fellow priest summed up Father Morrow’s ministry as one focused on “God’s love, God’s mercy.”