Local Religious life

Way of the crown

Walk through Kauffman Stadium leads Morris down a new path

by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Dan Morris was one of the designers of the Royals Hall of Fame at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, and he was proud of his work.

Even so, he was thinking about making a big decision, one that would make this hall of fame design job his last.

“I was walking around [Kaufmann] before the [2009] season opened with the director of the hall of fame, who also was Catholic,” he said. “It was an empty stadium and most of the renovations, except for the hall of fame, were done. Things turned out really well; they looked pretty good.

“I remember looking to center field where the new, giant scoreboard is, with the crown on top. God placed this question on my heart, ‘Who is your king?’”

The career he’d chosen as a museum and sports display designer was fulfilling, but to continue on that professional path would prevent him from answering God’s call to discern the priesthood.

There was only one answer he could give: “Christ was my king and I had to say ‘yes’ to his call.”

Later, his boss looked at his resignation letter and said, “Well, there’s not much of a counteroffer I can make to this.”

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann will ordain Deacon Morris and three other men to the priesthood at 10:30 a.m. on May 23 at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood.

Deacon Morris, 40, was born in Topeka. His parents — Gary and Linda (Boos) Morris — were key to his formation as a Catholic. The family went to Sacred Heart-St. Joseph Parish, Topeka.

Although his father is a lifelong member of the Church of Christ, he supported having the children raised in the Catholic faith.

“I learned so much from my dad about what it means to be a Christian and live a Christian life, and to be a man of sacrifice through hard work and selflessness,” said Deacon Morris.

His mother, too, was a powerful influence, “unwavering in teaching and living out the Catholic faith, [and] strong in her witness through her involvement at [the parish] in religious education, an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, and a lector among other things,” he continued.

Atypical of most men who discern the priesthood, Deacon Morris was not an altar server as a boy (being somewhat of an introvert), but he had an early fascination with those men in black.

“I felt the call to the priesthood at age 6 or 7,” said Deacon Morris. “We always used to sit in the first five or six pews of the church. I remember the priest and looking at him, realizing that the priest stood for someone more than himself and he was a leader for the people. . . . I knew I wanted to be like that guy.”

After he graduated from Seaman High School in 1993, he went to Emporia State University for two years, then transferred to the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

He was always a Mass-goer, even into college. But he admits he hadn’t taken much responsibility for his faith. 

Two important things happened to turn his mind back to the priesthood and a deeper faith after he graduated in 1998.

One was that his mother died in 1999, after being struck by a car.

“Her funeral was very powerful for me,” said Deacon Morris. “I met people and learned more about her at her funeral than I ever would have if she were alive today. They shared stories like: ‘This is how your mom walked the journey of faith with me when I was at my lowest point.’ Through the lens of my mother’s life, I asked myself, ‘What is my life all about?’”

He also learned something that surprised him.

“I had some of my mom’s closest friends tell me that she shared with them, at different points in my life, that she saw me as someone who might be called to the priesthood,” said Deacon Morris. “She never shared that with me.”

The second important thing occurred while he was dating a young woman who asked him, “Why do you believe in God?” She had become agnostic while in college after her fiance died.

“I felt that God was calling me to be a witness to this woman,” he said. “I had never had anyone ask me directly why I believed in my faith.”

The answer he gave her was, he felt, inadequate. Worse still, he realized his words didn’t match his life.

These two events led him to read books about the Catholic faith, lead a more sacramental life and pester his pastor with questions.

“I found myself falling deeper and deeper in love with the church and Jesus Christ,” he said.

After graduation, he had gone to work for a sports architecture firm in Kansas City, Missouri, and became a member of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Parish. There, he became involved in a number of ministries. He had a sense he was being prepared for something — what, he wasn’t sure.

“Over the course of those eight years   . . . I realized that my love, my passion, my fulfillment was in the work I was doing with and for the church,” he said. “I was surrounding myself with faithful, young Catholics who were helping me grow in virtue. I was falling in love with Jesus and his church.”

Deacon Morris’ desire to explore a vocation to the priesthood grew until he knew he had to make a decision. He loved Immaculate Conception Parish, but Kansas was home to him.

He contacted then-vocations director for the archdiocese, Father Mitchel Zimmerman. After the Royals Hall of Fame project was over, he quit the firm and entered the University of St. Mary of the Lake (Mundelein Seminary), near Chicago, in 2009. He was ordained a deacon on May 17, 2014, by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann at Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood.

Those years of working in parish leadership have paid off.

“Deacon Morris is very mature and has a deep love for the church and her people,” said Father Scott Wallisch, director of the archdiocesan vocations office. “His love for the Lord is apparent in his deep prayer life and his willingness to go out of his way to serve God and his people.”

Now Deacon Morris is looking forward to fulfilling his call.

“I look forward to entering deeper into the mystery of the love of God as it’s revealed in the lives of those I am called to serve,” he said.

“Coming to know God is not an intellectual assent. It is a lived, intimate experience over the course of your life,” he continued. “It’s like peeling an onion — it’ll make you cry at times — but it’s different layers, and facets, and sides, and you’ll never exhaust what it means to say God is love.

“But if you’re open to it, you enter more into that mystery of what it means.”

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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