A Jesuit's Journey:
Fr. Michael Morrison, SJ
January 26, 2017—A shy priest might not seem like a natural fit to lead a university, but Jesuit Fr. Michael Morrison’s gifts of warmth, sincerity, and good humor translated to a successful tenure as Creighton University’s longest-serving president.
During his presidency at Creighton University, Fr. Michael Morrison, SJ, wrote an article for a school magazine in which he pondered how his responsibilities reflected his spiritual commitment.
While he concluded that “not much” of his daily activity appeared to be “very religious or spiritual…at the end of the day, when I ask myself what I have done to promote the Kingdom of God, I answer that I worked diligently to promote the Kingdom.”
He concluded that every role at a Jesuit institution plays a part in teaching students “not merely different disciplines and subject matters, but the reality of God’s love for us,” educating the whole person, and inspiring lives of service.
“The study of the world is not a study of a neutral, non-divine reality,” Fr. Morrison wrote. “It is the study of a reality infused with the divinity, the presence of Jesus Christ in human history. In short, in the Ignatian perspective, education is God’s work because it studies the realities of God in the created world. Education is a way of finding God.”
This world view has infused Fr. Morrison’s vocation as a Jesuit — through assignments that include teaching history at Creighton Preparatory School in Omaha, teaching history and serving as assistant academic vice president at Marquette University in Milwaukee, and serving as director at the Jesuit Retreat House on Lake Winnebago in Oshkosh, Wis.
It is Creighton University, however, with which Fr. Morrison is most closely associated. For four years, he taught history and served as academic vice president. In 1981, he became the institution’s president, serving for 19 years — still the longest tenure of any Creighton chief executive.
His leadership spearheaded many impressive achievements. As of his retirement, four of every 10 diplomas awarded during Creighton’s history bore Fr. Morrison’s signature. The university’s endowment grew tenfold under his leadership, reaching $200 million. Creighton also initiated a number of new academic programs, and several new buildings graced the downtown campus.
Yet he is best known for making connections on a personal level — as a confidante, a counselor, and a friend.
As one colleague put it, Fr. Morrison kept Creighton “on an even keel while initiating a number of new academic programs across the campus. He was an outstanding leader, able to elicit the most from those around him. [But]…he reveled in knowing students and faculty.”
According to another colleague, Fr. Morrison’s signature traits are “a quietly assured dignity and warmth…sincerity…a good sense of humor.”
Whenever possible, Fr. Morrison would sit on a bench or the wall in front of St. John’s Parish, the campus church, and visit with those who walked past. One-on-one and small-group conversations were his preference and gift; he had to overcome a natural shyness and even difficulty with large groups of people.
Many would be surprised to learn that he has a stutter. Due to his comfort as a Mass celebrant and homilist, however, Fr. Morrison has never had an issue speaking in that role. And while he found fundraising — an important duty for any university president — to be a challenge (he told one writer that he had to “psych” himself into it), he persevered in this function as well, believing that “God supplies special graces to help get a job done; there is a ‘grace of office.’”
In 1999, Creighton established the endowed Rev. Michael G. Morrison, SJ, Scholarship to provide support to undergraduate American Indian students in need, with preference given to graduates of Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where Fr. Morrison served on the board of directors. In 2004, a new campus soccer stadium was named in his honor.
Perhaps the most apt accolade is not a building, or even a scholarship. It is the testament of so many who would agree with a board member who served Creighton during Fr. Morrison’s presidency: “He typifies what a Jesuit is.”
Today Fr. Morrison prays for the Church and Society at the St Camillus Jesuit Community in Wauwatosa, Wis., where he has lived since late 2009.
S P I R I T U A L I T Y
Fr. Michael Morrison’s favorite Gospel is the Book of John — including this particular passage:
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends because I have told you everything I heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give to you.” (John 15: 13-16)