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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Fr Jonathan Morris, LC, on Fox Television
People have noticed that I am not doing commentary on just religious issues

P. Jonathan Morris, L.C.
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 York.

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 memory?
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.

First, 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 that.

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.

One 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.

After 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.

What 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?
I 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 air?
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 on television?
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
in St. Joseph, Minnesota.

Reprinted with permission from the issue of National Catholic Register, October 16-22, page 5.



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