By ERIKA ANDERSON, Special to the Bulletin | Published June 25, 2015
ATLANTA—Sixty years of priesthood: six decades of ministry, a lifetime of service. Yet, despite this milestone, Father Richard Morrow remains as humble and as dedicated to his vocation as the day of his ordination.
To mark his 60th anniversary, Father Morrow celebrated a Mass May 31 at the Cathedral of Christ the King, where he is in residence. More than 20 priests concelebrated the Mass, including Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and Bishop David P. Talley. Archbishop Eusebius Beltran, archbishop-emeritus of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, also concelebrated the Mass. He and Father Morrow became friends as priests in Georgia over 50 years ago.
The cathedral had standing room only as the beloved priest led the procession, stopping to say hello to several family members and old friends. The Mass was simple and understated much like—many might say—Father Morrow himself. His family, including cousins of several generations, served as lectors and gift bearers.
In his homily, Father Morrow spoke of the great blessing he receives in his vocation to the priesthood. As recipients of the body and blood of Christ, we are able to say thank you to God every day, he said. Father Morrow also expressed his gratitude by holding a framed black and white photo of his late parents.
“I am able to be up here today because of two people I’m very grateful for—my mom and dad,” he said. “Because of them I learned to pray. All the sermons in the world didn’t teach me what they did.”
Father Morrow, a native of Stamford, Connecticut, was one of only 44 diocesan priests in Georgia in 1955, when one Diocese of Savannah-Atlanta covered the whole state. He recalled going door to door during his early years of ministry, asking if there were any Catholics. His first permanent assignment in Atlanta was as a parochial vicar at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Atlanta. During that time he also served as chaplain to the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
“It’s an assignment I’m grateful for now,” he said. “There I learned about the sick and what the sick were dealing with.”
Father Morrow said that with every assignment, he learned something about the community and himself.
“I served at 11 parishes. I was the pastor of nine. And I served under eight bishops that I buried,” he said, looking at Archbishop Gregory and Bishop Talley as the congregation laughed.
“Don’t look so worried,” he said to the bishops.
He addressed his fellow priests.
“For these guys, the greatest gift is the priesthood and the gift of religious life,” he said. “You ask the priests up here. Ask them how happy they are. You ask your parents what the happiest times they had were, and they’ll say ‘when you kids were little.’ Why? Because they felt needed. That’s what’s wonderful about the priesthood. I’m 85 years old and I’m still needed.”
Msgr. Frank McNamee, pastor of Christ the King, spoke at the end of Mass and expressed his gratitude toward Father Morrow.
“You have touched the lives of all who are gathered and thousands more,” he said. “Thank you for your example of the priesthood to us.”
‘He takes care of us spiritually’
The Mass was followed by a reception featuring a live band, lunch and a slideshow of Father Morrow’s life and ministry. There are 19 grandchildren in Father Morrow’s family, many of whom attended the Mass.
Mary Stockdale and Peter and Michael McKenna are siblings whose mother is Father Morrow’s first cousin. Peter McKenna, who traveled from London to attend, said Father Morrow has celebrated dozens of marriages and baptisms for family members.
“He has always been a special part of our family,” he said. “Around us, he’s the same guy you see as a priest—a quiet, gentle man.”
Stockdale said he is a caretaker.
“He makes everything better. In tragedy or happiness, he takes care of us spiritually. He makes it seem that everything will be OK,” she said.
Melissa Danchetz Simpson first met Father Morrow as a teen parishioner of Good Shepherd Church in Cumming.
“I remember him from when I was a teen playing the piano for the 8 a.m. Mass at Good Shepherd. I can remember his goofy laugh and times spent practicing in a quiet church when I thought I was alone and he was there. We’d talk about music and composing,” she said. “He has a way of chucking you on the chin or shoulder that nearly knocks you down. I really love that man.”
Jim Walsh, a parishioner of St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Smyrna, has known Father Morrow since Walsh was a young boy. Walsh’s mother, Sara, was his secretary at St. Bernadette Church in Cedartown and at St. Thomas the Apostle. Father Morrow was the founding pastor of St. Thomas, which originally held Mass in an old movie theater.
“My brothers and I would go to the Belmont Theater before Mass and sweep out the popcorn,” he said. “Father Morrow was very tall and imposing. And he had these movie-star looks like John Wayne. He was a powerful looking guy. He’d stand up on that stage at the theater, and he had everyone’s attention.”
And Father Morrow used that power to fight for those who suffered injustice, Walsh said. The church was across the street from a subsidized housing community. During the 1960s, in a time of civil injustice, the commercial buses that went along the street would refuse to stop for the black members of the community.
“My mother and Father Morrow would stand in the middle of the road and force the bus to stop. Then they were able to get on the bus,” he said.
Grateful, many of the residents began attending church at St. Thomas, leading to protests from the Ku Klux Klan. But Father Morrow never backed down.
Walsh’s mother would often have Father Morrow over for dinner. He later helped instruct Walsh’s future wife, Susan, to become Catholic. He married the couple and baptized all four of their children.
“He is a very devout man, but also one of the smartest men I’ve ever met. He’s very approachable and kind,” he said. “I think of him as the way a priest should be. If you had to make a poster that shows what a priest is, it should have a picture of Father Morrow.”