Newly-ordained Jesuit priest Fr Robert Morris said his parents, Ann and Russ, were the biggest influences on his faith. Fr Morris was ordained by Christchurch Bishop Paul Martin, SM, at St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral on June 2.
“I remember my late Mum teaching me my prayers as a little boy. I also have strong memories of attending Mass with Dad and observing his work with St Vincent de Paul. It was a great example of humble service to the poor,” the Jesuit told NZ Catholic.
Fr Morris, the youngest of six children, was born in Wellington in 1973. His family moved to Upper Riccarton the following year.
“We belonged to the parish of Our Lady of Victories. I attended the parish primary school and then went to St Thomas of Canterbury College, an all boys college run by the Christian Brothers,” he said.
The parish priests at Our Lady of Victories were also a source of inspiration for him as they “demonstrated faithful dedication to their priestly ministry”.
“I think the call was there early on. As a young boy, I found the priesthood and mystery of the Mass and sacraments captured my imagination,” he said.
However, Fr Morris said he did not feel drawn towards becoming a diocesan priest but became more interested in religious life.
“I think I liked how religious orders had a clear spiritual focus and presented
a distinctive face of the Church,” he said.
Fr Morris said he became interested in the Society of Jesus while studying history at the University of Canterbury and learning the roles played by the Jesuits throughout history. He entered the order in 2008.
“I became fascinated by the fact that many professors who were not Catholic showed so much respect for the Society of Jesus and its works,” he said.
He noted that apart from being priests and brothers, the Jesuits worked in a wide variety of roles such as missionaries, academics, teachers, spiritual directors, linguists, artists, composers among others.
“An important factor for the Jesuits was the engagement with the world and ideas that were often at odds with the Church. There is a strong emphasis on engaging with the intellectual, cultural, and religious frontiers of society while being faithful to the teaching of the Church,” he said.
Fr Morris said he was also attracted to the Jesuit or Ignatian spirituality. This is grounded in the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius de Loyola, founder of the order.
“This spirituality is deeply rooted in an awareness of God being constantly active in the world and in an intimate knowledge of Christ as our Savior,” he said.
Fr Morris spent the first two years with the order as a novice learning about the society’s spirituality and life. This was followed by religious vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.
“It is at this point the man becomes a Jesuit,” he explained.
In another interview posted on the Society of Jesus’ Australia website, Fr Morris elaborated on these vows.
“I think the vows, obviously, are an important way of living this [simple life]. More and more you see the vows — chastity, poverty, and obedience — as an emptying. A life-giving emptying, rather than a sacrifice in a negative sense. It’s clearing a space to allow you to be more for others, and to grow as a person. To be freer in yourself”, he said.
Fr Morris said he admired Pope Francis’ “very simple way of life, his pastoral example, and his depth of spirituality. He practises what he preaches. His simplicity of life, I was really drawn to that”.
Fr Morris worked as a spiritual director at Sevenhill in South Australia. He pursued his theology studies at Boston College in the United States and will be heading back there to complete a Licentiate in Sacred Theology in Church History.
“Once this is completed, I will return to Australia where the provincial will mission me to a particular ministry as yet undecided,” he said.