Bishop sees need for Catholic press for the people of Arkansas

Bishop John B. Morris <br>First publisher, 1911-1946
Bishop John B. Morris <br>First publisher, 1911-1946

Bishop John Baptist Morris, third bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock, founded a diocesan newspaper to communicate more widely with Catholics throughout the diocese.
It was first named The Southern Guardian, as the bishop hoped it would be a “champion of truth in his diocese.” It was soon renamed The Guardian, a name which it retained until 1986. The paper is known today as Arkansas Catholic.
“The appearance of the first number of The Southern Guardian marks the realization of a hope cherished since my coming to the diocese of Little Rock,” Bishop Morris wrote in the “Approbation of the Bishop” that appeared on page 1 of the first issue of the paper(see it here).
Bishop Morris was born in Hendersonville, Tenn., June 29, 1866. His father emigrated from Ireland and his mother was from Kentucky.
At 13, he received his first Communion at St. Mary Cathedral in Nashville, Tenn.
He graduated from St. Mary’s College in Lebanon, Ky., in 1887 and returned home. There he decided to enter study for the priesthood. He traveled to Rome to study at Urban College De Propaganda.
On June 11, 1892, he was ordained to the priesthood in Rome at the Lateran Basilica by Cardinal Lucido Maria Parocchi, then-vicar general of Rome. He said his first Mass at the Basilica of St. Peter in the Blessed Sacrament chapel.
He returned to Tennessee to serve as assistant at the Nashville cathedral. Two years later he was appointed secretary to Bishop Thomas S. Bryne and chancellor of the Nashville diocese. By 1900, he was vicar general of the Diocese of Nashville.
On June 11, 1906, he was ordained bishop in Nashville and assigned to Little Rock as coadjutor bishop. When Bishop Edward Fitzgerald died, Bishop Morris took over as bishop of Little Rock on Feb. 21, 1907.
Bishop Morris was a newspaperman himself before publishing The Southern Guardian. At St. Mary College, he served as editor-in-chief of the Sentinel.
The Catholic Publishing Company was established in 1911 with the bishop as main shareholder, which gave him the principal burden in publishing the paper.
On March 25, 1911, the first issue of Arkansas’ Catholic newspaper debuted. Bishop Morris contributed to the newspaper including a column on modernism in the first issue.
“I wished [The Guardian] might become a valiant defender of the faith, and it has been a defender of the faith and my prayer is that it will continue so until it reaches its golden jubilee and after,” he wrote in a letter on The Guardian’s 25th anniversary.
During his tenure, Bishop Morris established Little Rock College in 1908, St. Joseph Orphanage in 1910, St. John Seminary in 1911 and Catholic High School for Boys in 1930.
He opened parishes to serve black Catholics in El Dorado, Fort Smith, Helena, Lake Village, Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pine Bluff. He also added to the number of religious communities by inviting the Poor Brothers of St. Francis and Sisters of Good Shepherd to work in the state.
He died Oct. 22, 1946, in Little Rock, serving 39 years as the bishop of Little Rock. He is buried in the crypt at the Cathedral of St. Andrew.

Click here to return to the Arkansas Catholic Centennial index.

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