February is Catholic Press Month, a time to highlight the vital work of Catholic media. Below is the obituary of respected newspaperman Frank Morriss, who worked for the Catholic press for nearly six decades.
Frank Morriss had a doctorate degree in law, but chose instead to pursue a career as a Catholic journalist through which he promoted and defended the faith. He worked for the Catholic press—including the Denver Catholic Register, the National Catholic Register and The Wanderer—for 58 years.
Morriss served the Church with distinction as an editor, journalist, author and founder of a private parochial school. He died at his Wheat Ridge home on Jan. 25. He was two months shy of his 91st birthday.
Born March 28, 1923, in Pasadena, Calif., to B.G. Morriss and Regina Spann Morriss, he spent most of his life in Denver after moving here with his family from El Paso, Texas, in 1937.
Morriss attended Cathedral High School then went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and literature from Regis College (now University), where he graduated magna cum laude. He then joined the U.S. Army Reserve Corps and served as a staff sergeant in active duty during World War II from 1943-1945. He fought in the South Pacific and in Japan and was awarded numerous medals and a Bronze Star.
After his military service, he earned a doctorate in law from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
He married Mary Rita Moynihan on Feb. 11, 1950. They had three daughters and a son.
His career with the Catholic press was recognized with an honorary doctorate in journalism from the Register School of Journalism, which was established by the legendary Msgr. Matthew Smith, longtime editor of the Denver Catholic Register and founder both of its national edition, the National Catholic Register, and of the Register System of Newspapers. It was perhaps the degree he most prized.
“He was very proud of that,” said Patricia Morriss Bateman, 62, of Wichita, Kan., Morriss’ eldest daughter.
His journalism career started in 1949 when he joined the editorial staff of the Denver Catholic Register, which was still led by Msgr. Smith. At the time, the DCR and the National Catholic Register were the nucleus of the Register System of Newspapers, which reached peak circulation in the 1950s when the national edition and some 35 client editions were sent from Denver to more than 850,000 homes weekly. Morriss served as an editor with the DCR and NCR until 1961.
From 1961-1963, he served as associate editor of the Vermont Catholic Tribune in Burlington, Vt. He was also the founding editor of Twin Circle, a national Catholic newspaper established in the late 1960s.
Morriss was perhaps best known for his 40-year stint as contributing editor, from 1967-2007, of the national Catholic newspaper The Wanderer headquartered in St. Paul, Minn. He was also active on the board of the Wanderer Forum Foundation, now the Bellarmine Forum, and served as a policy expert for the Heritage Foundation. He twice won awards from the Freedoms Foundation for his newswriting and in 2003 he also received the Frederic Ozanam Award from the Society of Catholic Scientists for “vigorously defending the faith by the written and spoken word.”
In addition to his journalism career, Morriss taught at several colleges for more than 25 years and taught religion to children for 30-plus years at Colorado Catholic Academy, which he started in Denver in 1970.
A prolific author, he wrote a number of books for children as well as many for adults, ranging from poetry to analysis. Among his works are “Francis Thompson: A Reflection on the Poetic Vocation,” “The Divine Epic,” “The Catholic as Citizen,” “A Little Life of Our Lord,” “The Divine Epic,” “Saints in Verse” and “Two Chapels,” a treatment of Blessed Cardinal Newman and the Oxford Movement.
“It was an adventure in Catholicism being raised by my dad,” said Gerard Morriss, 56, of Denver. “He went to Rome a couple of times to cover sessions of the Second Vatican Council.”
“That was really a highlight for him,” added Bateman. “He had a great love of the Catholic Church. We grew up with that.”
Her father, Bateman said, “was a poet at heart.”
Morriss finished his last manuscript just last year—pounded out on a typewriter as he never embraced computers—called “Memoirs of a Reluctant Soldier,” it recalls his time in the military.
“He was writing till the very end,” Bateman said.
Morriss was preceded in death by his wife and by his daughter Franciscan Sister Mary John (formerly “Regina”) Morriss. He is survived by his children—Patricia Bateman (and husband Louie) of Wichita, Kan.; Mary Ellen (and husband Jeff) Hill of Denver, and Gerard Morriss of Denver—and his grandson, Lee Francis Hill of Denver.