|Fr Jonathan Morris, LC|
National Catholic Register
October 16-22, 2005
Register Staff Writer
Father Jonathan Morris oversees 400 students
as vice rector for the Legionaries of Christ Seminary
in Rome. When he’s not performing his duties at the
seminary, he can often be seen on television.
Father Morris serves
as a Fox News news contributor, offering commentary on breaking
news stories of the day.
He recently spoke with Register staff
writer Tim Drake while working from Fox’s studios in New
Where did you grow up? Tell me about your family.
I grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich. I’m the third
of seven children. My dad is an attorney. My mother
is a stay-at-home mom who is a social worker by
profession. I grew up Catholic.
Do you have a favorite childhood
When I was a freshman in high school, we
moved from Michigan to Ohio. I just assumed that I
would be attending the local Catholic high school, but before
enrolling us, my dad made a visit to the school,
sitting in on some of the classes, interviewing the teachers,
and getting a feel for the overall environment.
I remember having
a family meeting that night, and he informed us that
he wasn’t satisfied with what he had seen, in particular
what was being taught there in terms of theology and
Christian living. Instead, we would be attending a local public
high school where my older brother and I would be
a 2% minority in an otherwise all black school. I
remember clearly the reasons he gave us for his decision.
he preferred that we not receive any religious training at
school rather than something improper that we might think was
our faith. Secondly, he wanted us to have the experience
of being a racial minority. It was a great experience
all around. I was challenged to live and defend my
faith and at the same time I learned to adapt
to other cultures. I am grateful to my dad for
What led to your vocation?
My parents never mentioned the
priesthood to me as a possibility or anything they were
interested in me pursuing. But by their own testimony they
taught me that to be a Christian means to say
Yes to God always and in every circumstance.
When I experienced
the call of God, I couldn’t help but make reference
to what my parents had taught me with their own
example — God’s invitations are non-negotiable.
As it turns out, while
I was a sophomore in college, my roommate and best
friend, Rhett, was thinking of becoming a priest. I was
always giving him a hard time, often asking him in
the presence of his date how the discernment process was
going. I thought he should just give it a try.
day Rhett told me that a priest from Connecticut was
coming to visit him. I was pretty excited for him,
and to make sure that he went along to the
meeting, I decided to tag along.
I saw in that priest
something that changed my life forever. He was passionate about
God, about life, about doing something great for others. He
didn’t try to recruit me. He just was. His very
presence invited me to question what I was doing with
my life, and to ask the big question: “God, what
do you want me to do for you?”
At the end
of the lunch, the priest invited the two of us
to do a spiritual retreat at the seminary. “How did
I get myself into this?” was running through my mind.
two visits to the seminary, I wasn’t sure if I
had a vocation, but I felt like I needed to
give it a try. I remember so vividly the 10-hour
drive back to Ohio to tell my girlfriend of a
year and a half that we needed to take some
time off so I could figure this thing out. She
was very respectful.
After a three-month summer discernment program, I knew
that this was what God wanted for me, that he
had created me to be a priest, and he was
now inviting me, not forcing me, to take up the
challenge. The first person I told was my girlfriend. The
second was Rhett.
“Rhett, you have to take care of Tosha
for me. You have to make sure she gets back
to school and finishes up well.”
Rhett did a good job.
One year later, he visited me and asked for my
permission to ask her out on a date. He and
Tosha are now married and have six children and remain
my very good friends.
How did you come to be
a commentator for Fox?
Because I worked in Rome, through
the death of Pope John Paul II and the papal
events, I started doing some commentary for various television programs
— CNN, Fox, and Larry King. I think those remarkable
events had an impact on secular media outlets as they
soaked in the unprecedented love shown to John Paul II.
And they realized that it wasn’t just a Catholic thing
— the streets of Rome hummed with universal spirituality. And
the media caught it.
They picked it up, transmitted it, and
the viewers said thank-you for recognizing what we hold so
dearly. As a follow-up to all of this, several stations
asked me to consider doing continual work with them throughout
the year. I ended up firming something up with Fox.
was the particular highlight for you through all of those
events in Rome?
While doing live coverage of the funeral
of Pope John Paul II, I was standing on a
platform on the end of Via della Conciliazione. I was
on top of the media platform looking out over the
crowd as the coffin was lifted before bringing it into
the basilica, and I could see all of the international
flags. There were upwards of 1.5 million people saying their
last goodbyes to a man who had transformed the world,
the papacy, and to a very real degree, each of
their own lives.
The reporter and I were preparing for our
next commentary, when the skies opened up, and the sun
came down on the coffin just at that moment. The
correspondent couldn’t believe it. He was trying to be objective,
just reporting the facts, and without personal interpretation. But he
couldn’t help but report the emotion of the moment. I’ll
never forget it.
We let the rest of the funeral mass
air without commentary.
You’re referred to as a “news contributor.” How
is that different from a religious analyst?
I’m not sure
what my title is. I prefer to go by “Father.”
But yes, you’re right. People have noticed that I am
not doing commentary on just religious issues. I guess you
could say that my job is to give special commentary
on ordinary news.
A lot of news items are complicated, but
the information given to viewers is all too often one
dimensional. The goal here is to give viewers a broader
perspective. I’m drawing from the social, human, spiritual, religious, ethical
and moral levels to help viewers make a fully informed
judgment for themselves.
Can you give me an example?
was recently asked to do a segment on “What constitutes
torture?” in response to the controversy created by the treatment
of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. It was one way —
among others — to present the news in its fullness,
instead of becoming fixated on partisan politics.
I think it is
great that here in America we are asking these questions
on national television. People have a right to hear all
sides of the issue.
Two minutes before we went live, there
was breaking news on the Natalee Holloway case, the young
woman who disappeared while on a high school senior trip
to the coastal island of Aruba. The anchor asked me
to stay on set and to change my commentary topic
accordingly. We had a good discussion, delving into very relevant
issues of a social and moral nature.
When do your commentaries
Since my segments depend on the news items of
the day, the days of the week and hour of
the day often vary. I have generally been on about
once a week, live from Rome, between the 2-3 p.m.
hour [EST], on a show hosted by Martha MacCallum. Segments
last about 10 minutes.
What are you doing when you’re not
I work as vice rector at the Legionaries
of Christ Seminary in Rome. There are 400 students there.
Most of the work I do there is working on
an individual level with each of the seminarians and the
priests, helping them along in their preparations for the priesthood
and their early ministry. The world needs good priests more
than ever. Please pray for us.
Tim Drake is based
St. Joseph, Minnesota.
Reprinted with permission from the issue of National Catholic Register, October 16-22, page 5.