Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Jubilarian Seen As ‘Spiritual Father’ To Many

By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published August 4, 2005

Looking into the kindly face of Father Richard Morrow, it is difficult to imagine him as a troublemaker.

However, the senior priest, who this year is celebrating his 50th anniversary of ordination, just might owe his vocation to a fistfight.

Hundreds of holy cards were printed in honor of Father Morrow’s golden jubilee, which he celebrated with a Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the King on May 22. On one side of the holy card the words of the Prayer of St. Francis are printed, while the other side bears an image of a smiling Father Morrow holding one of the many babies he has baptized in his 50 years as a priest. The picture is a unique representation of the jubilarian, a detour from the typical headshot that many priests use for their holy cards. But it is, as Father Morrow said, truly representative of his call to the priesthood.

“Why do people call us ‘Father?’ It’s because we bring people into new life, the life of the church,” he said.

The pastoral side of Father Morrow is legendary in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. He has been a confidante for both lay people and clergy, and a role model for young priests who have just been ordained. The love for Father Morrow was evident at his jubilee Mass, which drew about 40 priests, including Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue and Abbot Francis Michael Stiteler, OCSO, from the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. Oklahoma City Archbishop Eusebius J. Beltran, a former priest of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, served as the homilist for the Mass.

Father Morrow said he was “overwhelmed and very moved” by the many people who came to the Mass to celebrate with him. Lay people filled the Cathedral, and an overflow crowd watched the Mass on big screens in the parish hall.

In his homily, Archbishop Beltran spoke of the years of service that Father Morrow has given to the priesthood and prayed that other young men may look to the jubilarian for inspiration. “Certainly there are young men here in this congregation today who are also being called by God to become priests. We pray that Father Morrow’s example will inspire you to answer God’s call and become priests of this archdiocese,” he said, and added with a chuckle, “and—if Archbishop Gregory wasn’t here, I would even say that perhaps God is calling some of you young men to become missionaries for Oklahoma.”

Though the great number of people who turned out for the Mass was a delightful surprise to Father Morrow, his friend expected the outpouring of love.

“Father Morrow, I have known you throughout your 50 years of priesthood. Gathered here today are family and friends, some of them having known you longer than I. Others have come to know you in recent years. I am confident that they and anyone else who knows you would share the same sentiments I dare express,” Archbishop Beltran said. “Father Morrow, we know you—we love you—we respect you. We are grateful for your genuineness and for your long and faithful and enthusiastic priestly service. Therefore, we sincerely and wholeheartedly congratulate you as you celebrate your golden jubilee of priesthood. May the Good Lord show you the same love and compassion you have shared with us. Congratulations and may Almighty God bless you most abundantly.”

Father Morrow knows that God has already bestowed abundant blessings.

“The biggest thing about celebrating 50 years of priesthood is that all of us—clergy and laity—have been through so much with the recent scandals but the fact is that most priests love the priesthood and are faithful to the priesthood. I just wish more young people realized how much fulfillment there is in the priesthood and how fun it is.”

Growing up in Stamford, Conn., young Richard Morrow attended a Jesuit high school and admits to being a bit of a troublemaker. After his second fist fight, he was called in to speak with the dean of discipline, and his quick thinking not only kept him in school but led him on the path to the priesthood.

“He said to me, ‘Morrow, I don’t know what we’re going to do with you,’” Father Morrow recalled. “I said, ‘well, you can’t kick me out,’ and he said ‘why not?’ I told him, ‘because I’m going to go to the seminary in the fall.’”

So he left for seminary as he had said, but even his parents were skeptical.

“They thought I was more interested in trouble and in girls, and they didn’t think I’d last (there),” he said.

Though attending St. Bernard’s Seminary in Connecticut, Father Morrow felt called to investigate foreign missions. His home state had an abundance of priests, and Father Morrow knew there must be a need for priests in other dioceses.

“I looked into it and saw that Georgia really had a need,” he said.

When Father Morrow was ordained on May 19, 1955, for the Diocese of Savannah-Atlanta, he became the 42nd active diocesan priest in the entire state of Georgia. Throughout his 50 years of service, he has been a pioneer who has helped countless people embrace the church. He had always believed in personal ministry and, as a pastor, he and teams of parishioners would make home visits, knocking on the doors of those within the parish boundaries. As the son of a civil rights activist, Father Morrow said he was immensely “bothered by segregation.”

“I would often give sermons to the (Catholic Youth Organizations), and I would try to slip in at least one or two sentences about interracial subjects,” he said.

After his first permanent assignment as a parochial vicar at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Atlanta, Father Morrow began serving as pastor of St. Bernadette Church in Cedartown. The parish was the only integrated building in the city of Cedartown.

“When we were processing outside the church, the traffic would literally stop because our altar servers were black boys and white boys,” he said. “But it was a good witness.”

After several years at St. Bernadette and at its mission of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Carrollton, for which he served as first pastor, Father Morrow was asked by Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan to start a new parish in Smyrna—St. Thomas the Apostle. The experience of beginning and building a new church was “thrilling,” Father Morrow said.

“The spirit of the people there was just wonderful,” he said. “The men and women of the parish built the rectory themselves.”

It was at St. Thomas the Apostle that Father Morrow invited three sisters of the Holy Humility of Mary to serve in a pastoral ministry capacity. A national Catholic magazine said it was the only program in the nation where nuns were serving as pastoral ministers, as most were serving in either a nursing or teaching role.

From Smyrna, Father Morrow went on to serve as pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church, Hapeville, and at St. Jude the Apostle Church, Atlanta. In 1986 he was named pastor of Prince of Peace Church in Buford, and in 1992 he became pastor of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Cumming.

Highly respected by his peers, Father Morrow was elected to the priest personnel board and served as the vicar of priests for 13 years.

Msgr. Pat Bishop, pastor of the Church of the Transfiguration in Marietta, calls Father Morrow his “spiritual father” and said that the senior priest represents the best of the church, both past and present.

“He is an old-fashioned priest, the kind that people think of from when they were growing up. He’s pastoral and loving, protective and kind—everything that is good about the priesthood and the spirit of the priesthood,” Msgr. Bishop said. “But he’s also in touch with the priesthood as it’s lived today, and he’s stayed up to date with renewal. He’s been a groundbreaker.”

Msgr. Bishop met Father Morrow when the younger man first began considering the priesthood. Msgr. Bishop had thought of becoming a Marist priest, and Father Morrow was the “first diocesan priest (he) had ever talked to.” Msgr. Bishop was ordained in 1974.

In those days, priests had to have a black overcoat.

“He took me to get my London Fog black overcoat. He received my dad into the church; he was very good friends with both my mom and my dad,” Msgr. Bishop said. “He’s really been a spiritual father to me.”

Father Kevin Hargaden, 33, who was ordained in 1999, said that Father Morrow provides a great deal of guidance to young priests. Now retired but in-residence at the Cathedral of Christ the King, where many new priests are sent to serve in their early assignments, Father Morrow often mentors the young men in their first years of priesthood. Now a parochial vicar at St. Lawrence Church in Lawrenceville, Father Hargaden’s second assignment as a priest was at the Cathedral with Father Morrow.

“I’m thankful for the wonderful example he is of enjoying being a priest after all the years,” Father Hargaden said of Father Morrow. “He loves serving the people, especially caring for those in the hospital with compassion. His generosity in service is something I continue to try to model.”

Father Morrow said that the priests in the archdiocese have a “really good camaraderie,” and that he is honored that priests feel they can turn to him for advice because the early years of priesthood “can affect a man’s future life.”

“A number of priests still come to me with their problems or for confession,” he said.

But it isn’t just the clergy who look to Father Morrow as a role model. Catholic parishioners, both young and old, see the priest as someone who can relate to them.

Khristina and Melissa Danchetz, young adults who grew up in the Church of the Good Shepherd in Cumming, came to know Father Morrow when he served as their pastor.

“He is so endearing for so many reasons,” Khristina said. “When you are around him, you can feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. He is reflective, a great listener, and I love it when you really get him laughing. He has this belly laugh that is so funny! Father Morrow is sincere and I see him much as a loving grandfather and friend, truly part of the family.”

Khristina’s younger sister, Melissa, agrees.

“I got to know him through my volunteer capacity, playing the piano at Sunday morning Masses and lectoring,” she said. “He was very influential in my learning the importance of being an active member in a parish community as opposed to just a ‘pew person’ who’s in and out for Mass once a week. It made me feel special and happy to be Catholic and part of a church to have a leader and pastor like him.”

Melissa said she loves the fun side of Father Morrow and that his influence has helped her to form relationships with other clergy members.

“When I think of him I think of lots of smiles and his goofy laugh and playful nature, pushing or punching me on the arm while we joke around. Most of the time he doesn’t know his own strength and he nearly knocks me down,” she said with a laugh. “Father Morrow was one of the first priests I really formed a personal relationship with rather than being (known as) someone’s daughter or sister. He set an example that has led me to many great friendships with clergy over the years and for that I’m grateful.”

Though many are quick to praise Father Morrow, he remains a simple man, his office filled with photos of family, friends and parishioners. He hopes that his legacy will be borne of the very reason he became a priest.

“I’d just like to be remembered as someone who has led people to Christ.”