WARWICK — Most priests wouldn’t see much of a connection between the high stakes world of investment banking and their role as a pastoral shepherd. Even fewer could say they have several years’ experience as a financial advisor under their belt. However, Deacon Brian Morris, who will be ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of Providence this Saturday, June 3, isn’t a typical seminarian. He was working as an advisor for UBS financial services company in Washington, D.C., when he heard the call to the priesthood, and he isn’t afraid to draw a connection between the two.
“There’s kind of a parallel between finance and the spiritual life,” he said during an interview at his parents’ Warwick home last month. “Even the wealthiest people need financial help. I think it’s the same with the spiritual life. Even the saintliest person in the parish needs a priest.”
Morris’ unconventional path to the priesthood began at Our Lady of Mercy Parish and Bishop Hendricken High School, where he was elected Man of the Year upon his graduation in 2003. Though he briefly considered a vocation to the priesthood, he put those thoughts aside to study business at Wake Forest University and pursue a career in the financial sector. He entered the market in the midst of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, a period he described as a “tumultuous” time to work in finance, but survived rounds of layoffs to earn valuable work experience and the respect of his colleagues.
“I really enjoyed it. I really thought that was what I was going to do. But it wasn’t,” he said.
Despite a successful career and bustling social life, after four years, Morris felt something was missing. He sought solace in daily Mass and expressed his thoughts to longtime mentor and former Bishop Hendricken Chaplain Father Marcel Taillon during a visit home for Christmas. Father Taillon suggested Morris return in the spring for a vocational retreat at Our Lady of Providence Seminary. He accepted the invitation, but, uncertain where the discernment process would lead, kept the visit a secret from family and friends.
“I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want anyone to know. I flew home, rented a car, drove over to the seminary, got there an hour or two early and Father [Gregory] Stowe and I just started talking.”
After the retreat, it became clear to Morris that he was called to enter the seminary. The news came as a surprise to his family and coworkers, all of whom were supportive and encouraged him in the spiritual calling they now recognized he had been seeking through his lifestyle and attendance at daily Mass. Even one of his clients indicated he thought Morris would make a fitting Catholic priest when he learned he was leaving the company.
“We knew he’d thought about it in high school and we didn’t know it was still on his plate,” said Morris’ father, John.
“His brothers were very supportive,” added his mother, MaryBeth. “We’re both from big families, so he has a lot of aunts and uncles, and all of them were very supportive.”
Morris entered Our Lady of Providence Seminary in the fall of 2011, beginning his formation for the priesthood at the same time as Deacon Stephen Battey, who will be ordained alongside him this week. Though returning to college at the age of 26 and living in community after being on his own was a challenge, Morris credits his fellow seminarians and the strong community in the Diocese of Providence with supporting him throughout the formation process.
“I will miss seminary a little bit,” he said. “I enjoyed living down the hall from friends, especially guys who were in the same boat and wanted to grow in a relationship with Christ.”
As a priest, he looks forward to the opportunity to hear confessions, especially at the Steubenville East Youth Conference he visited as a youth group coordinator during parish summer assignments. He also looks forward to the brotherhood of the priesthood and settling down into parish life.
“I’m nervous about the reality of what I’m entering into, but I’m excited, too,” he said.
Despite his extended discernment process, Morris said he hopes his years working in the financial sector will prove fruitful and help him to better relate to and understand the concerns of his parishioners.
“I can tell you I’m glad as a mom that he did that,” said MaryBeth. “I’m glad that he had those life experiences and he grew from them. I think it’ll make him a better priest.”
For now, the family looks forward to his ordination at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, where they will watch as their son receives the sacrament of Holy Orders and later imparts a blessing on his family gathered to celebrate the special day.
“We’re very proud of him and look forward to seeing him on the altar,” said John.
“That first blessing is going to be really special,” added MaryBeth.
Father Morris will celebrate his first Mass of Thanksgiving at Our Lady of Mercy Church in East Greenwich on June 4 at 1:00 p.m.
Three transitional deacons will be ordained to the priesthood on Saturday, June 3 at 10:00 am in the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul in Providence. The Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence will preside at the ordination of Deacons Stephen M. Battey, Brian J. Morris and Jean Joseph Brice. In preparation for the ordination, a Holy Hour for priestly vocations will take place at Holy Apostles Church in Cranston, on Friday, June 2, at 7:00 p.m. with Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans presiding.