Priest’s concern for youth, poor to continue

Father John H. Morgan, shown in this 1981 photo, championed numerous causes, including education and social justice issues. (Record File Photo)

By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer

Twenty years ago today, a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville died and left behind a legacy promoting higher education and social justice.

Not long before he died Father John H. Morgan established a trust that would provide a college scholarship to a qualifying senior from each of the Catholic high schools in the archdiocese.

Since 1998, the Father John H. Morgan Charitable Trust has awarded more than $1 million to approximately 180 students. The recipients are honored each year at the Salute to Catholic School Alumni, the Catholic Education Foundation’s fundraising dinner.

The trust officially dissolves today — Father Morgan stipulated that the life of the trust would be limited to the 20 years following his death. The trustees have decided to transfer the bulk of the trust’s $1.4 million to the CEF.

The CEF is receiving $1 million to continue Father Morgan’s legacy of higher education. The remaining $400,000 goes to The Healing Place, a non-profit organization that aids men and women suffering from drug and alcohol addiction.

The Healing Place grew, in part, from Mission House, a charitable organization founded by Father Morgan to help people experiencing homelessness.

According to those who knew him and news stories from The Record, Father Morgan was an advocate of impoverished people and cared deeply about access to higher education.

Richard A. Lechleiter, president of the CEF, said the foundation will continue the tradition of the Morgan Trust and plans to increase the scholarship awards over time. It currently awards a one-time $7,000 scholarship to recipients, up from $1,000 when the scholarship began.

“Part of our promise to the trustees is that we would enhance the award over time. We intend to increase those awards by at least $500 per student this coming March and will likely increase the award every year after,” he said in an interview last week.

Lechleiter said that while the scholarship will not come close to covering the full cost of a college education, it does help alleviate some of the burden for students and families.

“It’s daunting to educate children in higher education today. While the cost of a college education goes far beyond this award, this is something meaningful to a family who wants their son or daughter to continue their education,” he said.

That’s why the foundation believes it’s important to increase the award amount moving forward, he added.

Deane Stewart, Father Morgan’s nephew and one of the fund’s trustees, said his uncle would be pleased that the trust continues to serve students.

“He was at the University of Kentucky’s Newman Center for a couple of years (in the 1960s) and enjoyed being with students. He enjoyed talking with students and seeing what their interests were. He was always interested in their activities,” Stewart said in a recent interview.

A 1999 Record article noted that Father Morgan established the fund because he wanted to assist students going to college. When he was a college freshman he received a $100 scholarship from an anonymous donor.

Mary Rose Raque, a graduate of Sacred Heart Academy, was a 2017 recipient of the Father John H. Morgan Charitable Trust Scholarship Award. Raque, now a sophomore at the University of Dayton, said the scholarship helped fund her pre-med studies at the Ohio college. She also noted it meant a great deal to her to be chosen in part because of her Catholic values.

Father Morgan scholars are chosen on several criteria. First, the student must be interested in pursuing a career in law, medicine, religion or education. Second, the student must have achieved a high level of academic success. The student must also demonstrate a commitment to service in their extracurricular and community activities.

Recipients are chosen by the trustees from names submitted by principals of the Catholic high schools.

“I’ve been through Catholic schools all the way through grade school, high school and now college. That really meant a lot to be chosen because of my Catholic values and commitment to service,” she said in an interview last week.

Raque, who attends St. Raphael Church, has continued her commitment to service in college through organizations such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters and a service club for pre-health majors.

“We go on a trip and set up a clinic in rural areas of the U.S. I think that value and love of service come from my Catholic education. I learned how important it is to engage people and form relationships with others who don’t have access to the benefits I do,” she said.

That lesson seems to reflect Father Morgan’s vision. The priest said in a 1981 Record interview that a “person-to-person response” to suffering enabled Mission House to carry on its charitable work.

He was a tenacious supporter of those who had faced the worst life had thrown their way, said Stewart. He described his uncle as an “unforgettable, interesting character” who had strong opinions and a “mellifluous” voice.

“I remember at his funeral another priest said he never had a thought he wasn’t sure of,” Stewart said with a chuckle.

“He was at the rectory at 13th and Market at the old St. Patrick and people came by looking for a hand out. It was hard to turn them away and he knew something had to be done,” Stewart said.

Father Morgan, a native of Colesburg, Ky., was known for his personal outreach to homeless and transient people. While pastor of the former St. Patrick Church in West Louisville he founded Mission House in 1971, which later grew into what is now The Healing Place.

Father Morgan’s obituary, which was published in The Record Dec. 3, 1998, noted Father Morgan was “outspoken about caring for the poor and downtrodden.”

It is the “responsibility of all people, especially those who call themselves Christians, to bear their equal share in meeting the needs of suffering humanity,” he wrote in a 1977 letter in The Record.

Karyn Hascal, president of The Healing Place, called the funds from the Morgan trust a “tremendous gift and blessing for us.”

The Healing Place is set to open a new $29 million  building on Market Street and will replace its existing men’s campus. The treatment facility will expand capacity for men from 250 to 425.

“We’re almost doubling the size of our men’s facility and we’ll have a more significant outreach to the streets because we are able to double our detox capacity,” Hascal said.

The $400,000 gift from the Morgan Trust will bring The Healing Place to near zero in debt on the new project, Hascal said.

“Father Morgan was a tremendously inspiring man. His vision lives on today,” she said.

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