Father Morrison passes on
Former Catholic Standard Editor remembered for tenacity, fearlessness
January 28, 2004
Former Editor of the Catholic Standard Fr Andrew Morrison SJ died of respiratory complications at St Joseph Mercy Hospital on Monday at around 9.20 pm. He was 84.
Fr Morrison's funeral service will be held tomorrow at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Main Street at 4 pm. Viewing of the body will start at 3 pm.
The Jesuit priest, who was often described as tenacious and an unrelenting fighter for democracy in Guyana, was admitted to the hospital on January 13, after complaining of exhaustion.
He was at the time heading St Joseph the Worker Parish in Linden, which he assumed responsibility for in 1997.
Born on June 5, 1919 in Georgetown, Morrison was educated at St Stanislaus College, before attending a Jesuit institution. After his schooling and some training in accounting, he worked with a Georgetown firm of accountants.
He was later sent to Great Britain to study for the priesthood after joining the Society of Jesus in 1949 at the age of 30. Morrison was ordained priest in July 1957, on the feast of the founder of the Jesuits, St Ignatius Loyola, after studying for nine years.
During his tenure as youth chaplain of 'Green Light Organisation' he founded the well-known Camp Kayuka on the Linden-Soesdyke High-way. He then became vicar- general of the diocese of Georgetown in 1972. In this capacity, he was the liaison between the Roman Catholic church and many organisations within and outside Guyana.
He became editor of the Catholic Standard in 1976 at a time of growing repression and curtailment of press freedoms in Guyana. Morrison raised the newspaper from being a purely parochial paper to one that took on national issues in particular the rigging of elections.
He published his first book, Justice: The struggle for democracy in Guyana, (1952-1992) on July 14, 1998. The 491-page volume chronicled aspects of Guyana's political and social development from the early days of the Jagan years to the Hoyte era.
On July 14, 1979 Fr Bernard Darke, who worked as a photographer with the Catholic Standard, was stabbed to death by those who wanted to silence legitimate protest. The cover photo of Morrison's book features the actual attack by members of the House of Israel.
In 1993, Fr Morrison was awarded the 'Arrow of Achievement' by the Jagan Government for his yeoman service in promoting democracy in Guyana. He also received awards from the Inter-American Press Asso-ciation and the Catholic International Press among others for his commitment to journalism.
Jesuit Superior, Fr Joseph Chira of the SJ Presbytery recalls that in those days, Fr Morrison became something of a household name and he will be remembered as a priest who took the Catholic Standard to the markets around town and personally sold them; at the same time gathering information for his next issue.
He said that Morrison was a friend of the mighty and also the powerless, even though the former would have preferred a more compliant friendship.
He pointed out that the death of Fr Darke made Morrison all the more determined to work for democracy and freedom in Guyana. Thus, the Catholic Standard became the voice of the voiceless in the 1980s. He said that Morrison was instrumental in developing youth and had acquired computers for young people in Linden in addition to setting up a steel band group.
He noted that Morrison was active even up to January 12 this year, adding that in his last days he worked for the upliftment of the peoples of Mackenzie, Wismar and Silver Hill. According to Chira, Morrison not only took care of the spiritual but also material needs of many poor families in the community.
He attributed the deterioration of Morrison's health to his hard work and said that he almost died with his boots on.
David de Caires, the Editor-in-Chief of Stabroek News recalls the heyday of the Catholic Standard when writs were filed against the weekly magazine by Prime Minister Forbes Burnham, Minister Desmond Hoyte and others. The Catholic Stan-dard was represented in those actions by Miles Fitzpatrick SC. From then on, every issue of the Catholic Standard was vetted by de Caires and Fitzpatrick in an effort to avoid further libel action.
Reminiscing on Fr Morrison's career as a journalist, de Caires said that though not a professional he was fearless and possessed enormous energy and would run a story down even in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances. He paid tribute to him for keeping the banner of the free press flying in the days when the state had monopoly control over the media and the Chronicle read like a small edition of Pravda (the official Soviet newspaper). He said Fr Morrison's dedication to press freedom at a time of danger and harassment had been widely recognised.
Poet and columnist, Dr Ian McDonald expressed sorrow at Morrison's passing and said he knew the priest well. He said Fr Morrison was a brave man, a good priest and a good journalist who fought in a difficult time when freedom in Guyana was restricted and democracy impaired.
McDonald recalls Morri-son's absolute integrity and described the priest as indefatigable in his search for the truth. Morrison had a sixth sense about what was being covered up, but was also never satisfied with a story just for a scoop, or to make a preconceived point; he wanted the whole truth.
He remembered that Fr Morrison never failed to respond to invitations to show his magic tricks at his [McDonald] sons' parties and said that both he and his wife are saddened to learn of the death of a great man who they considered a friend as well as a good Guyanese.
Editor of Capitol News, Enrico Woolford said Fr Morrison was interesting and unique in that time when the truth in journalism was needed and was resourceful and steadfast in his pursuits. He said that Morrison got to the truth of situations and played a significant role in the development of democracy in Guyana.
He remembers knowing the priest in 1982 when he [Morrison] was met with criticism from the political powers of the time. This, he said, is the nature of being a strong journalist and pointed out that Morrison faced the attacks and his critics admirably.
Public Communications Consultant, Kit Nascimento remembers Morrison as a man of enormously strong moral convictions and a great champion of free expression and the free press. He said that Morrison's death is a sad loss to the country.
He added that the priest fought valiantly to protect those freedoms, which he worked for most passionately. Though he did not always agree with the views Morrison held, Nascimento had admiration and respect for him. Nascimento asserted that Guyana needs men of Morrison's courage and deep conviction.
Mike James, former assistant editor of the Catholic Standard, worked with Morrison closely from 1976 to 1983. He recalls that no job was too big or too small for Morrison and said the priest was persistent when following a story and would sometimes hold it until he had it confirmed.
Though he endured hostile criticism, he was never insulting and would press on until the truth was uncovered. He said Morrison was a fearless editor yet simple and had an elementary approach to his writing.
In a press release, the Guyana Press Association (GPA) expressed sadness at the passing of Fr Morrison and said the gangly Catholic priest, whose height was the first thing people noticed as he wended his way around the city, would be missed.
The GPA said that Morrison was in the forefront in the fight for press freedom and the development of Guyana's democracy and was best remembered for his invaluable contributions to investigative journalism, in the face of threats to his life, as he went about uncovering illegal acts by public officials in high offices.
His doggedness won the respect of all, including those who considered him a foe. The GPA urges that all remember Fr Morrison's respect for the facts, and the fearlessness with which he published them, despite the cost, personal or otherwise.
The Government Information Agency yesterday paid tribute to Morrison saying he would be remembered for his "fearlessness and persistence in exposing the truth".