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Frank Morriss, RIP… May His Memory Be Eternal

January 30, 2014 Frontpage No Comments

By GEORGE A. KENDALL

Following is the full obituary for Frank Morriss, well-known Wanderer journalist.

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Frank Morriss, Catholic journalist, scholar, author, educator, and defender of the faith, well-known to Wanderer readers for weekly columns appearing over a 40-year period, died Saturday, January 25, 2014, at his home in Wheat Ridge, Colo., a few weeks short of his 91st birthday.
Frank was born March 28, 1923, in Pasadena, Calif., the son of B.G. Morriss and Regina Spann Morriss, but spent most of his life in Denver. He married Mary Rita Moynihan on February 11, 1950. She preceded him in death, as did his daughter Regina (Sr. Mary John) Morriss. His surviving children are Patricia Bateman (Louie) of Wichita, Kans.; Mary Ellen Hill (Jeff) and Gerard, both of Denver; and his grandson, Lee Francis Hill, also of Denver.
Morriss held a doctorate in law (JD) from Georgetown University and a doctorate in journalism, as well as an undergraduate degree in philosophy and literature from Regis College, Denver, where he graduated magna cum laude. He enlisted in the Army in 1942 and was in active duty from 1943-1945 as a staff sergeant. He was in the battles and campaigns of the Northern Solomons and Southern Philippines. He received numerous medals for service in the Pacific, and was with the first troops in occupied Japan. His last manuscript, Memoirs of a Reluctant Soldier, was completed in 2013.
Frank was a writer, columnist, and teacher. He taught on the college and adult levels for over 25 years and taught religion for over 30 years at Colorado Catholic Academy in Denver, a private Catholic school which he founded in 1970. He authored a number of books for children as well as many for adults. Among his works are The Divine Epic; The Catholic as Citizen; The Forgotten Revelation; The Conservative Imperative; A Little Life of Our Lord; Saints in Verse; Two Chapels: Newman and the Case for Modern Martyrdom; Francis Thompson: A Reflection on the Poetic Vocation; Boy of Philadelphia; Submarine Pioneer; The Legend of Broken Hand; Alfred of Wessex.
Frank worked as a journalist beginning in 1949. He served as editor of the Register Newspapers at the Denver Catholic Register and then the National Catholic Register, Denver, from 1949 to 1961. From 1961-1963 he served as associate editor of the Vermont Catholic Tribune, Burlington. He was founding editor of Twin Circle, a national Catholic newspaper originating in the late 1960s.
He was perhaps best known as a contributing editor of The Wanderer, St. Paul, from 1967 to 2007. He covered two synods in Rome for The Wanderer. His newspaper writing has been honored by awards from the Freedoms Foundation. He was active on the Board of the Wanderer Forum Foundation (now no longer affiliated with The Wanderer), and served as a policy expert for the Heritage Foundation. In 2003 Morriss received the Frederic Ozanam Award from the Society of Catholic Social Scientists.
Perhaps Morriss’ life is best summed up in a short book he published in 2008, Francis Thompson: A Reflection on the Poetic Vocation, where Morriss discusses Thompson’s famous Hound of Heaven, saying that “it describes this age, the whole age is in flight from God…you can reach the moon, but that won’t satisfy you because the whole universe, if scientists are right, will be gone someday….The only thing left will be our relationship with our Creator.”
The list of Frank’s professional accomplishments is impressive, to put it mildly. Yet to those of us who make up that little family sometimes known as “The Wanderer Gang,” he was so much more. Aristotle once said that, without friendship, no one would want to live. Frank excelled at friendship — first with God, then with his neighbor, and in a special way, with those he worked with. Partly this was possible because of his humility. I won’t say that Frank didn’t have an ego, but if he did he certainly kept it under control.
Some years back, I helped him with the editing and publishing of one of his books, Two Chapels. In editing the manuscript, I went beyond just fixing typos, and made a number of changes in usage and style that I thought would make what he was saying clearer and more persuasive, then worried that he would be mortally offended. Instead he thanked me profusely, and I could tell he was sincere. To him, getting the message out that would help to build up Christ’s Kingdom was just a lot more important than personal vanity. Building up the Kingdom, and to that end, building up rather than denigrating people, was central to him.
Back in the 1990s, he was very helpful to me when I was putting together my book, Witness for the Truth, the history of The Wanderer which I had been asked to write. Frank was one of those asked to look over the first draft and give me his feedback. After a while I became impatient, not having heard from anyone in the “Gang” about it, and began to worry that maybe everyone hated it. I needed reassurance that the project was going somewhere after the time and work I had put into it and was really getting very anxious.
Finally, I did what you’re not really supposed to do and asked God for a sign. The very next day, the mail brought a letter from Frank enthusiastically praising the book. It was a moment of grace.
Frank himself was very much a witness to the truth. In the 1970s, he burned his diploma from Regis College to protest that institution giving an award to the pro-abortion governor of Colorado. Humble and gentle he might have been, but that didn’t keep him from being quite feisty when he saw people compromising the truth. The same concerns prompted him to resign as news editor of the National Catholic Register when he saw liberal ideas making incursions there at that point in time.
And I find it impossible not to be awestruck at a man who earned a law degree at a very prestigious university, then chose not to practice law, where he could doubtless have had a brilliant career and made lots of money. Apparently, he concluded that there were other and, for him, better routes he could follow to build up the Kingdom.
Like all of us on our pilgrimage through this world, he suffered, especially in the loss of his wife, then a few years later, the loss of his delightful daughter, Sr. John.
All of us who used to attend the Annual Wanderer Forums have happy memories of sharing meals, as well as conversation, and maybe even hoisting a couple of beers, with Frank.
May he find that ultimate rest which he so confidently proclaimed. In the words of St. Paul, “He has fought the good fight, he has finished the race, he has kept the faith.” Yes, and as the Eastern Rites like to say, “May his memory be eternal.”

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