Father Morse Turns 80, by Joe Nerbonne (1972)

The Rev. Walter P. Morse, SSJE, veteran China missionary, celebrated his 80th birthday Friday, June 16, with a Holy Communion Service at St. John’s Cathedral on Hoping East Road, Taipei.

The venerable Father was assisted in the Friday evening service by Bishop James Pong who delivered a sermon in honor of the octogenarian’s 19th birthday on Taiwan.

In his sermon, Bishop Pong said in part: “Father Morse has had a very rich and varied life. After attending high school in Milwaukee and Racine College in Wisconsin, he worked in a bank and in a Wall Street brokerage firm. During World War I he joined the army and became a sergeant-major. [Father Morse was a lay novice of the Society when he joined the army, and retained that status during the war. Ed.] In 1917, at 25, he decided to enter the ministry and at 30 took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience for the rest of his life as a Cowley Father of the Society of St. John the Evangelist. He is now third oldest Cowley Father in the world, and less than two months ago when I dropped in to visit the SSJE House in London, all the Cowley Fathers there asked about Father Morse and wanted me to give him their warmest regards.”

Following 15 years of missionary work in Korea and Japan, Father Morse went to China in 1937 where he served in Shanghai, Wuhu, Hankow, Ichang, Shasi, Kumming, and Kalimpong on the Tibetan border.

“During the Sino-Japanese War,” Bishop Pong continued, “he did much in Shanghai in the Episcopal Mission to provide , shelter, food and protection for Chinese left homeless by the fighting; in Wuhu’ he continued his refugee relief work; in Hankow, he cared for 5,000 refugees; in Ichang, he showed great courage by successfully preventing the Japanese soldiers from, entering the mission compound. He has lived and served the Chinese people for so long that he knows their needs and feelings inside out.

“After the occupation of mainland China by the Communists, Father Morse shifted, in 1953, to Taiwan. He began work here along the banks of the Tamsui River and for five years provided food for the old and refugee pedicab boys from the mainland.”

When a series of typhoons wiped out that base of operations Father Morse set up a soup kitchen in a courtyard of a Taoist temple in Taipei to feed the hungry and clothe the cold. No strings to accepting the Christian Faith were attached.

Father Morse, himself said: “We just offer up a prayer of thanksgiving to God for our food before we eat it and let it go at that.”

Bishop Pong concluded by saying: “In our text for tonight, the Shunammite woman whose dead child the prophet Elisha restored to life, said to her husband that Elisha was a holy man of God who continually passed their way. We can say the same of Father Morse who both looks and acts like a holy man of God and who continually passes our way. Some of his colleagues and friends may think that we are giving him this party for his 80th birthday because we are afraid that he would not live to his 90th birthday. But our text says that the holy man of God continually passes our way. We pray that God will grant Father Morse many, many more happy returns of the day so that we shall have a holy man continually passing our way.”

—From Cowley, 1972, pp. 35-37.

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