Aaron Morris
Aaron Morris
Born and raised in Ashland, Aaron Morris hiked Oregon’s wild peaks, cycled its remote highways and sailed its bluest waters. Now in his 30s, he has set out on an adventure of the soul.

A seminarian for the Congregation of Holy Cross, Morris is in advanced theological study at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

After obtaining an engineering degree from the University of Portland in 2012, he worked on submarine design and maintenance for the Navy at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. At the same time, a childhood dream of priesthood resurfaced. After becoming a catechist at his Hawaii parish and spending hours in prayer, Morris felt drawn to a religious community with a charism for teaching.

“Education is too often seen only as a means of reaching a higher income bracket,” Morris wrote in an essay for seminary leaders. “The aim of a complete education should be to enrich lives, elevate the mind, and move the heart to believe more fully in the Good News.”

Morris began his fourth year of seminary studies in late August.

His parents, Dr. Richard Morris and the late Sandra Morris, were active members of Our Lady of the Mountain Parish in Ashland. Aaron was the youngest of five boys. In a mix of public school, Catholic school and homeschool, young Aaron developed a sense of faith and service. His dresser was covered with holy images, including one of St. Jude, whom he embraced as a special patron.

But as with most preteens, he soon got the sense that deep faith was not cool. The dresser sacramentals went into a box in the closet.

At Ashland High, he studied hard, played football, made the snowboard team and was an Eagle Scout.

A high school philosophy teacher recommended U.P. and Morris chose it, wanting to nurture his old faith and bring it to maturity. It worked. The Holy Cross priests and brothers at the school served as models and mentors of belief. Morris frequently prayed quietly in the basement chapel at Villa Maria Hall.

When hard times hit — his mother died while he was at U.P., as did an important high school football coach and a boyhood friend — the Holy Cross men were there for him. Father Gerry Olinger even traveled to Ashland for Morris’ mother’s funeral.

During and right after college, Morris sensed the call to religious life and priesthood but was anxious about it. He would hide magazines and letters that came from the vocations director, lest his friends see them. His spiritual directors suggested a theme: “Someday, maybe, but not yet.”

In Hawaii, Morris got deeply involved in parish life and became a catechist to youths. Helping young people develop a relationship with God made him want to enter his own spiritual life more deeply. Whether on hikes in the tropical hills or in prayer before the tabernacle, a shift began to happen. Morris thought less about what he wanted and started asking God what he should do. The idea of priesthood returned. Now, he felt joy instead of anxiety.

His family has mostly been supportive. His cousins, as cousins will do, have asked pointed questions about why he would do such a thing. That only helped him get more confident in his call.

Morris is an outdoorsman with an explorer’s soul. His favorite film is “Into the Wild,” which plumbs self-knowledge and the Alaskan landscape. One of his favorite books tells the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s dramatic and tragic voyage in Antarctica. He backpacks, swims, snowshoes, sails and cycles.

Morris knows that, if he completes formation, his life will be in the hands of superiors. That’s its own kind of daring exploit, he figures. At the same time, he’d love to serve in the West, or perhaps overseas. He could teach math, engineering, or theology, or serve in a parish.

Through earnest and humble ways, Morris has won the regard of older Holy Cross religious.

“He is a man of deep faith and a strong sense of service, especially for those who are on the margins,” said Father Olinger, who just was named vice president for student life at Notre Dame. “Even as a student, he had a strong prayer life.”

Father Olinger said he witnessed firsthand how seriously Morris is when it comes to listening and responding to God's call. “I am eager to see the ways that his journey with Holy Cross will transform the communities he serves and bring glory to God.”