A former provincial of the Clerics of St. Viator, who led the community of priests and brothers through transition after the Vatican II council, has died.
From 1974-1984, the Rev. Kenneth Morris led the Viatorian Chicago Province, based at its Arlington Heights Province Center. He passed away there on Friday at 82, in the retirement wing he helped to build.
"He was the only provincial ever elected to serve three terms, which is unprecedented in our province," said the Rev. Thomas von Behren, current provincial of the Chicago Province. "He was a man of faith and gentleness, and was very, very kind."
Fr. Morris entered the Viatorian community in 1947, before completing his seminary studies and postgraduate work in Rome. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1954.
On his return to the U.S., he became professor of scripture and novice master at the Viatorian seminary in Washington D.C., where from 1961-1972 he taught many of the Viatorians who now serve in parishes and schools across the country.
The Rev. Robert M. Egan, president of St. Viator High School, describes Fr. Morris as his mentor, helping to educate him and others at a pivotal time in the Catholic Church.
"He was a mentor to me and other young men, who were entering religious life and discerning a vocation as a religious or priest," Egan says. "His gentle spirit, deeply grounded faith and common sense approach to religious life, was a real gift to the community."
Egan points out that Fr. Morris' leadership came after the Second Vatican Council, when Catholic leaders examined ways to renew the church and involve lay members more in its leadership.
As a seminary professor and novice master, Egan says, Fr. Morris helped to prepare new Viatorian priests and religious for their roles in the transformed church.
"His vision of leadership in the church was not about simply issuing orders or assignments and demanding obedience," Egan says. "It was about sharing in decision making with individual priests or brothers, and coming to a shared vision of what was best for the individual and the church.
"He modeled this in his life of service and leadership for our community," Egan added. "And since he taught and led so many of us, his passing means the end of an era."
After leading the community in Arlington Heights for 10 years, Fr. Morris returned to Rome where he served as Vicar General of the congregation and acting Superior General.
His remaining years were spent in parish work, first at St. Viator Parish in Chicago, and then St. Thomas More in Henderson, NV.
Visitation will take place from 4:30-7 p.m. Tuesday at Lauterberg & Oehler Funeral Home, 2000 E. Northwest Hwy. in Arlington Heights, before a 10 a.m. funeral Mass on Wednesday at St. Viator Church, 4170 W. Addison St. in Chicago.