Priesthood Class of 2020
His family’s faith prepared Deacon James Morrison to serve his archdiocesan family of faith as a priest
Jun 11, 2020
The ordinations scheduled for the Archdiocese of Washington on June 20 will be a special family experience for Deacon James Morrison, one of eight new priests who will be ordained for the archdiocese, because during that same Mass, his younger brother Nicholas Morrison, also a seminarian, will be ordained as a transitional deacon. At the Mass, moments before his ordination to the priesthood, Deacon James Morrison will vest Nicholas before he is ordained as a deacon, and the next day, Deacon Nicholas Morrison will preach at the first Mass of his brother, Father James Morrison.
“It’s a great privilege. It seems our stories have been intertwined from the beginning,” said Deacon James Morrison, who noted the example of Jesus calling two sets of brothers, St. Peter and St. Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee, St. James and St. John. “It’s a familiar method of the Lord to use brothers… Now he’s got two more brothers to work with.”
And their younger brother, Danny Morrison, is also a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Washington, studying at the Saint John Paul II Seminary.
“We often speak of the parish and of the Church as a family, and other Christians as brothers and sisters. To have two brothers in the seminary, it (the Church) seems even more to be family,” said Deacon James Morrison. “You look at these men united in the mission of Christ’s salvation, and it’s your own brothers. You see your own brothers. The Church really does feel like a family to me.”
The Ordination Mass, which will be livestreamed and not open to the public due to coronavirus safety precautions, also involves the story of two more brothers – Deacon James Glasgow, who will be ordained to the priesthood this year and who will be vested by his older brother, Father Brendan Glasgow, who was ordained as a priest for the archdiocese last year and now serves at St. Peter Parish on Capitol Hill. The Morrison brothers and Glasgow brothers grew up as friends, as their families homeschooled and knew each other, and later those brothers and friends were seminarians together.
“This has been an alliance for a long time,” Deacon James Morrison said. “You have blood brothers and these spiritual brothers, all united as coworkers in Christ,”
Reflecting on the roots of his vocation, he noted, “Growing up, the greatest witnesses in my life were disciples, my own parents, friends and priests. So the faith was something which was always a part of my life, and always reinforced by those around me.”
He praised the example of his parents, Dr. Eric Morrison, a dentist, and Dr. Grace Morrison, a periodontist.
“Parents are the primary educators for their children in the faith, and that was very much the case growing up,” he said. The future priest attended St. Bernadette School in Silver Spring from kindergarten through the third grade and then was homeschooled through high school. After the family moved to Gaithersburg and became members of St. John Neumann Parish, the seven Morrison children were homeschooled.
Deacon James Morrison at 27 is the oldest of the siblings, followed by Nicholas, 25; Anna Marie, 23; Danny, 21; Sophia who turns 17 on June 12; Thomas who turns 15 on June 14; and Isabelle, who is 7.
“Homeschooling was an important part of (my) formation growing up,” said Deacon Morrison, adding that he and his siblings attended daily Mass as part of the fabric of their lives.” He said his mother did most of the teaching at home during the day, while his father worked as a dentist. His dad helped teach them math and science. “Our parents taught us the faith. They also taught us math, biology, social studies and history.”
Rather than being an isolating experience, he said homeschooling didn’t confine them to their home. He and his siblings were involved in many outside activities. They played the piano and participated in year-round swimming. Deacon Morrison -- who enjoys outdoors activities including kayaking, hiking, camping and the sport of Ultimate played with plastic discs -- played soccer growing up, was a Boy Scout for awhile, and volunteered at his parish as an altar server, in the youth group and singing in the choir.
“We were probably out of the house more than in the house,” said Deacon Morrison of his homeschooling years. “We had the finest experience. It was a lot of fun.”
And during those years, “priests were an important part of our life growing up,” he said. “Priests were over at our house for dinner once a week and joined us on family vacations with other families… Priests were not just Sunday clergy, they were real Fathers in our family.”
Father Scott Woods -- who was his spiritual director through high school and serves as the pastor of St. Cecilia Parish in St. Mary’s City and St. Peter Claver Parish in St. Inigoes, Maryland, and provides spiritual direction to students at St. Mary’s Ryken High School in Leonardtown – was a key influence on his future vocation, Deacon Morrison said.
“You saw a priest who loved being a priest. You saw a priest who was joyful, who had real gifts and ordinary hobbies, but who loved his priesthood more than anything,” the deacon said.
Deacon Morrison said his call to the priesthood was gradual. “It wasn’t an epiphany moment, but a gentle, progressive discernment.”
In 2011, he became one of the pioneer seminarians at the Archdiocese of Washington’s newly opened Blessed John Paul II Seminary, which was renamed as the Saint John Paul II Seminary after the pontiff’s canonization in 2014.
“It was a privilege to see the Holy Spirit at work, as ideas and inspiration took form in brick and real faces,” Deacon Morrison said.
He praised the “great lineup of priests” in the seminary’s founding faculty, including the rector, Msgr. Robert Panke, now the pastor of St. John Neumann Parish in Gaithersburg; the vice-rector and now the seminary’s rector, Father Carter Griffin; and the spiritual directors, then-Father Mario Dorsonville, now an auxiliary bishop of Washington; and Father William Gurnee, now the pastor of St. Joseph Parish on Capitol Hill.
“These guys had a real charism for formation,” Deacon Morrison said. “They not only loved the priesthood, but they knew how to form men for the priesthood.”
Father Griffin will vest the future priest at his ordination, and Msgr. Panke is his spiritual director.
Deacon Morrison said that after four years as a seminarian in Washington, he gained a perspective of the universal Church when he continued his studies from 2015-19 at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, where he said he got to see Pope Francis, and also fellow seminarians from around the world, together at “the heart of the Church.”
Pope Francis, he said, “has really challenged priests to push beyond familiar practices and routines, and to be a priest and pastor for your people, to get out of your rectories.”
The seminarian said that during his summer assignments, and during his pastoral year, he had the blessing of serving with many good parish priests throughout his home archdiocese, including his summers at Assumption Parish in Washington, D.C.; at St. Andrew Apostle in Silver Spring; at Our Lady Star of the Sea in Solomons; at the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda; and this past year at St. Mary’s in Rockville, and in recent weeks, back at St. Andrew Apostle.
“It’s the same Spirit, the grace of ordination, their love for Christ which manifests in a variety of different gifts and expressions. Christ becomes a mosaic formed by so many different colors,” Deacon Morrison said, praising those priests he served with and learned from.
This spring, the future priest was on a mission trip to Jamaica with other Washington seminarians, and “the pandemic hit me by surprise,” he said, noting that when they left, the churches were open, and by the time they returned, local churches were closed due to safety precautions. For his pastoral year serving at St. Mary’s, “it was an abrupt conclusion to public ministry,” he said.
Like others serving in the Church, Deacon Morrison adjusted his ministry during the coronavirus shutdown.
“I went from visiting classrooms to visiting Zoom conferences,” he said, adding that he also “went down the parish roster and called up parishioners in alphabetical order, just to check in with them, gather prayer intentions, and pray with them.”
He also helped coordinate an effort to pick up and deliver groceries to homebound St. Mary’s parishioners.
“We might be in quarantine, but I’ve been as busy as ever,” he said, noting that in recent weeks at St. Andrew Apostle Parish, he had gotten a sunburn assisting at the outdoor Eucharistic Adorations there, and also driving a box truck to Hagerstown to pick up thousands of loaves of donated bread that he helped deliver to area food pantries.
“Diaconate really is a ministry of service, and that’s obvious here at this parish,” Deacon Morrison said.
When asked how he felt as the day for his ordination to the priesthood draws near, he noted a scene from the movie “Return of the King,” based on “The Lord of the Rings” novels by the Catholic author J.R.R. Tolkien, where the character Pippin looks out over a landscape on the eve of a great battle, and remarks to the wizard Gandalf how quiet it is.
“Gandalf says, ‘It’s the deep breath before the plunge,’” Deacon Morrison said, adding, “There is a certain stillness in this time of quarantine… (but) I feel an urgency in Christ’s mission beginning to peak in my heart.”
As for his goals as a priest, he said he doesn’t have many goals, beyond “to stay faithful to prayer, chastity and obedience. The rest is part of the adventure… We don’t bring agendas to the priesthood.”
For Deacon Morrison, it again comes down to family – serving his family of faith in the Archdiocese of Washington.
“I am very excited to celebrate the sacraments, to serve a diocese that formed me,” he said, adding, “Men formed in a diocese are called forward to serve their own family, basically.”