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John Baptist Morris

bishop

John Baptist Morris was an American prelate of the Roman Catholic Church.

Background

Morris, John Baptist was born on June 29, 1866 in Hendersonville, Tennessee, United States. Son of John and Annie (Morrisey) Morris.

Education

Educated St. Mary’s College, Kentucky, and N.A. College, Rome, Italy.

Career

He served as Bishop of Little Rock from 1907 until his death in 1946. After graduating from St. Mary's College in Lebanon, Kentucky, he began his studies for the priesthood in 1887 at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. While in Rome, he was ordained a priest by Cardinal Lucido Parocchi on June 11, 1892.

Morris, following his return to Tennessee, was named rector of St. Mary's Cathedral in Nashville and private secretary to Bishop Thomas Sebastian Byrne. In 1901 he became vicar general of the Diocese of Nashville. He was later raised to the rank of a Domestic Prelate of His Holiness in 1905.

On April 18, 1906, Morris was appointed Coadjutor Bishop of Little Rock, Arkansas, and Titular Bishop of Acmonia by Pope Pius X. He received his episcopal consecration on the following June 11 from Bishop Byrne, S.M., with Bishops Edward Patrick Allen and Nicholas Aloysius Gallagher serving as co-consecrators, at St. Mary's Cathedral. He was the first native Tennessean to be elevated to the Catholic episcopacy. Upon the death of Bishop Edward Fitzgerald, Morris succeeded him as the third Bishop of Little Rock on February 21, 1907.

Morris opened Little Rock College for Boys in 1908 at a cost of $50,000. And St. Joseph's Orphanage, which was completed at a cost of $150,000 and placed under the care of the Benedictine Sisters, in 1910. He presided over the first diocesan synod in February 1909, and established the first school for Catholic teachers during the following June.

That same year he established the diocesan newspaper, The Southern Guardian. He erected parishes for African Americans in El Dorado, Fort Smith, Helena, Hot Springs, Lake Village, Little Rock, North Little Rock, and Pine Bluff. He also opened an African American orphanage at Pine Bluff, which lasted from 1932 to 1937.

He founded a school for boys near Searcy under the care of Poor Brothers of St. Francis, as well as a school for wayward girls run by the Good Shepherd Sisters in Hot Springs. Morris was confronted with a resurgence of anti-Catholicism early in his tenure, and during World War I many German American Catholics and German-speaking priests in Arkansas found themselves under suspicion. Despite the financial hardships of the Great Depression, he raised $20,000 to purchase an organ for the St. Andrew's Cathedral.

Morris opened Catholic High School for Boys in 1930, and was named an Assistant at the Pontifical Throne the following year. During World War II, he publicly condemned anti-Semitism following the Kristallnacht attacks in November 1938. Morris received Albert Lewis Fletcher as an auxiliary bishop in 1940.

During his tenure, he increased the number of priests from 60 to 154, and the number of schools from 29 to 80. By 1940, the diocese contained over 33,000 Catholics and 125 churches. Morris later died at the rectory of St. Andrew's Cathedral, aged 80.

He is buried in the crypt under the Cathedral.

Achievements

  • In 1911 he founded St. John Home Missions Seminary in 1911. Morris considered the seminary as the greatest accomplishment of his nearly 40-year-long tenure.

Membership

Fellow American Geography Society.

Connections

father:
John Morris

mother:
Annie (Morrisey) Morris