One of the greatest gifts bestowed upon The Bronx for more than a decade has been that of Father Jonathan Morris. His kindness and spiritual direction has touched many in the borough throughout the years and so, the news of his leaving the priesthood and his position as Pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, was met with much sorrow by those who knew him.
Bronx Historical Tours founder, Alexandra Maruri, was one of these individuals. She has known Fr. Jonathan since her first chance encounter with the priest and Fox News commentator, back in 2009.
"It was after I had lost my corporate job in 2008, from which I was still reeling, and I had taken a job as manager at a local pharmacy. The cashier was a no show that evening and as fate would have it, I recognized Father Jonathan from television as he stepped up to the counter to purchase some cold medicine."
Maruri goes on, "We started talking, and I told him about my devastation from losing my job. That's when he invited me to come to St. Patrick's Basilica where he was a priest, and that he was available to talk if I needed emotional support. I spoke to him on several occasions, during which he was very kind and helpful, and gave me a true spiritual lift."
Then, when Maruri least expected it, six years later, in 2015, after starting her new tour business, she spotted him in front of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, during one of her tours. "When I saw him, my eyes lit up with hope! Now on a new path, launching a tour business in The Bronx, it felt like a sign of renewed reassurance that I was on the right path."
As the new pastor at Mount Carmel, Father Jonathan would inspire many with his energy and enthusiasm for his new parish. Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Father Jonathan personally, I became aware of his many accomplishments during one of my Bronx Tours with Alexandra Maruri last summer.
While on her Bronx Church Tour, (which, by the way, I highly recommend taking!), I learned how much he had done during his first few years as pastor, to breathe new life into the parish and make some much-needed renovations to the century old church building.
Thanks to his commitment and tireless efforts since his arrival in February of 2015, he brought a vibrancy and renewed energy to the church, now in its second century.
Under his direction, the church has undergone many changes. Combining reverence for the old with the implementation of the new, Father Jonathan undertook a major restoration and renovation of the church building to celebrate the hundred year anniversary of Mount St. Carmel in 2017, as well as adding new programs and services to keep up with the neighborhood's changing demographics and a new wave of Latino immigrants.
This undertaking included replacing worn out floors, painstakingly matching original Italian marble used to repair church columns, refurbishing ceiling frescos, relocating existing statues of saints within the church and adding much-needed exterior lighting.
Simultaneously, under the new pastor's leadership, new statues of saints, held in high esteem by the new neighborhood immigrants from Mexico and Latin America were added. New paint colors were used to brighten certain interior spaces, such as the baptismal area, and a new church organ was purchased.
Under the pastor's direction, the church also uses new candles that do not emit soot, in order to better preserve the ceiling frescos.
Spanish language masses were added to the existing English and Italian ones for more inclusiveness to the members of the community.
With the news of Father Jonathan's request to leave the priesthood, Maruri commented that while she was very sad to see this wonderful priest leave his role in the community, she is simultaneously, quite happy for him in his new calling to create a family of his own, and wishes him much love as he begins a new life path.
We know that Father Jonathan will be missed; wished much love; and always welcome in the neighborhood he called home for so many years!!
-Till next time,
Elisa is a travel blogger and freelance writer. She is co-founder of TravelinCousins.com travel blog and writes a weekly column for ThisIsTheBronx.info.