Updated: Family prayer helped lead Father Nicholas Morrison to ordination as archdiocese’s newest priest
Jun 17, 2021
Pope St. John Paul II once described the prayerful example of his parents at home as being his first seminary, planting the seeds for his future vocation to the priesthood.
Father Nicholas Morrison – whom Cardinal Wilton Gregory ordained as the newest priest of the Archdiocese of Washington on June 19 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – said that for him, his home was indeed his first seminary.
“The thing that I’m most grateful to my parents for instilling in us at home was the desire to be holy and the desire to be a saint,” he said.
His parents – Dr. Eric Morrison a dentist, and Dr. Grace Morrison, a periodontist – met in dental school, and over the years, they emphasized the importance of prayer to their seven children. In addition to attending daily Mass and receiving homeschool lessons about their Catholic faith, the Morrison siblings also prayed the rosary with their parents.
“In evenings growing up, when we were little kids, our parents would put each of us in our beds… My dad would sit at the top of the staircase, in the middle of the rooms, and he would lead the decade (of the rosary),” Father Morrison said, remembering how the children would take turns leading the praying of the rosary, yelling out Hail Marys from their rooms, but sometimes there was silence when it was the turn of one of the brothers or sisters who had fallen asleep.
That prayer life and witness of faith in the Morrison home has helped inspire three of the family’s sons to seek the priesthood.
One year ago in 2020, Father Nicholas Morrison’s older brother, Father James Morrison, was ordained as a priest of the archdiocese and now serves as a parochial vicar at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bethesda. A younger brother, Danny Morrison, is also a seminarian for the archdiocese and will be studying at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg this fall, after following his two older brothers as a seminarian at the archdiocese’s Saint John Paul II Seminary in Washington.
Father James Morrison, who is now 28, was among the first seminarians to study at Saint John Paul II Seminary when it opened in 2011. Father Nicholas Morrison, who is 26, said attending a Quo Vadis vocations retreat as a teen helped open his heart to God’s plan for his life, and later visiting his brother at the seminary helped convince him that he was also called to be a priest.
“When I would go and visit, I was just really inspired by the fraternity he had with other seminarians,” said Father Nicholas Morrison. “…I saw the seminarians at Saint John Paul II as a bunch of good guys striving to give their lives to the Lord, (that) was something I was drawn to.”
Father Morrison said that as they were growing up, he and his older brother James “did a lot of stuff together.” They acted in homeschool theater groups, were on the swim team together, and both learned to play the piano. They also had many of the same friends.
As he witnessed his older sibling studying as a seminarian and then serving as a priest, Father Morrison said, “I saw particular gifts and qualities in my brother that I appreciated in a new way, particularly his zeal for the Lord, his zeal to give everything to the Lord and to the people.”
The future priest said that in a society where that quality is often not seen, “In the Archdiocese of Washington, we’re particularly blessed with priests and seminarians who have this zeal, and when you encounter this zeal, it’s inspiring, and it makes you want to live differently.”
At the ordination Mass last June, the brothers shared a special experience, as Father James Morrison was ordained to the priesthood and Deacon Nicholas Morrison was ordained as a transitional deacon, with the older brother vesting his younger brother during the Mass.
Father Nicholas Morrison said an especially moving moment for him during the Mass was when his brother and the seven other men about to be ordained as priests lay prostrate before the altar, and he joined them in doing that before his ordination as a transitional deacon. At that moment, he said, “We’re all doing the same thing, laying down our lives together for Christ.”
At the ordination Mass where Father Morrison was ordained as a priest, seven men were ordained as transitional deacons for the Archdiocese of Washington: Deacon Gerald Andrews, Deacon Ryan Braam, Deacon Mattia Cortigiani, Deacon Carlos Gutiérrez, Deacon Peter Mlynarczyk, Deacon Grzegorz Okulewicz and Deacon Kyle Vance.
After his ordination to the priesthood, Father Nicholas Morrison celebrated his first Mass on June 20 at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Bethesda where his brother Father James Morrison is serving. At 11:30 a.m. Sunday June 27, he will celebrate Mass at St. John Neumann Church in Gaithersburg, the Morrison family’s home parish.
Reflecting on following his older brother in becoming a priest, Father Morrison said, “We’ll be priests together. It’s kind of unbelievable… (to) think about where the Lord has brought both of us, and the grace in both of our lives moving us in a similar direction.”
And regarding his younger brother Danny, 22, following their path as a seminarian for the archdiocese, Father Morrison jokingly said, “Danny and I were kind of the rough-housers in the family growing up, always finding the worst times to cause mayhem at home.” He added, “Just to see his abandonment to the Lord in his life is inspiring to me. He’s a good guy.”
Rounding out the Morrison siblings are Anna Marie, 24, a graduate of Catholic University’s nursing school who now works at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, where her duties this past year included caring for COVID-19 patients; Mary Sophia, 18, who will be studying theology at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio; and Thomas, 16, and Isabelle, 8, who are being homeschooled.
After attending the Saint John Paul II Seminary, Father Morrison since 2017 has attended the Pontifical North American College in Rome. One moving aspect of being a seminarian in Rome, he said, “is just the proximity of the saints and the proximity to the martyrs.”
He has served as a tour guide at St. Peter’s Basilica there, and he noted that saint is buried below the main altar, and St. Simon and St. Jude are buried under a nearby altar. All three were saints and apostles, he said, noting, “All of a sudden, you’re surrounded by friends of Christ. These are the guys that Jesus hiked mountains (with), fished together, had bonfires together. They died for him… It can’t help but inspire faith when you’re there.”
In the DC Priest website, Deacon Morrison wrote a biographical sketch where he described recently taking up road biking, and explained, “With the fast pace and my need for speed, I find that biking beats running any day!”
In September 2019, he completed a 100-mile Ride for Vocations through scenic Southern Maryland, pedaling along with his father and his brother Danny. He also biked in a Sea Gull Century ride that partially wound through Assateague Island, a coastal area known for its wild horses.
In Rome, Father Morrison has ridden a city touring bike through St. Peter’s Square, along the Tiber River and to the basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Walls.
He confessed that riding a bicycle through the frenetic traffic of that city involves dodging motor scooters, commuter buses and pedestrians.
“It brings on a whole new level of excitement, of fighting for your life when you’re biking in Rome,” he said.
Interviewed a few weeks before he prepared to begin a different kind of journey as a priest, then-Deacon Morrison said he felt excited, and he continued to trust in God’s grace that brought him to that point.
Drawing on lessons first learned from his family, he said his goal is “to be a faithful priest, to be a zealous priest, to be an authentic priest, to be a holy priest.”
Following his ordination, the Archdiocese of Washington announced that Father Nicholas Morrison is being appointed as a parochial vicar, pro tem, to St. John Francis Regis Parish in Hollywood, Maryland, effective July 7.
People can view the Ordination Mass livestreamed from the National Shrine on Saturday June 19 at 10 a.m.