BILOXI, Mississippi – Bishop Roger Paul Morin, the third bishop of Biloxi and the former auxiliary bishop of New Orleans, died Thursday during a flight from Boston to Atlanta.
Bishop Morin, 78, was returning to Biloxi after vacationing with his family in Massachusetts. He served from 2003 to 2009 as auxiliary bishop of New Orleans and from 2009 to 2016 as bishop of Biloxi.
“This is a sad day for our diocese,” said Biloxi Bishop Louis F. Kihneman III. “I was shocked to hear the news.”
“Bishop Morin was a kind and gentle man who truly embodied his episcopal motto as one who walked humbly and acted justly. When I was named bishop of Biloxi in 2016, Bishop Morin was most gracious and accommodating. I am forever grateful for his support, wise counsel and, most of all, his friendship. He will be sorely missed. As we prepare to celebrate All Saints Day, we take comfort in knowing that the Communion of Saints has gained a powerful intercessor in Bishop Morin.”
“It is with great sadness that I learned of the death of Bishop Roger Morin,” said New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond. “Bishop Morin served the Archdiocese of New Orleans faithfully for many years as a priest and then as a bishop before going to lead the Diocese of Biloxi. He had a special place in his heart for the poor and vulnerable and was instrumental in assisting Archbishop Hannan with building the Catholic social service ministries in our archdiocese as we know them today. He was also Archbishop Hannan’s lead representative in planning for the 1987 visit of Pope John Paul II to New Orleans. We receive this news with a heavy heart but entrust him to the Lord. Please keep Bishop Morin, his family, and all those who mourn him in your prayers.”
Most of Bishop Morin’s priestly service in the Archdiocese of New Orleans involved his work establishing and expanding the Social Apostolate, whose roots date back to the 1966 Summer Witness program started by former Archbishop Philip M. Hannan.
Bishop Morin first came to New Orleans in 1967 as a seminarian of the Archdiocese of Boston to serve as a mentor to inner-city youth.
He eventually returned to New Orleans and was ordained to the priesthood for New Orleans in 1971, serving as director of The Center, the first community center run by the archdiocese out of the motherhouse of the Eucharistic Missionaries of St. Dominic on Magazine and Aline streets.
Then-Father Morin later became executive director of the Social Apostolate, which expanded to established year-round community centers, and also director of Second Harvest Food Bank.
The concept of a centralized food bank was cutting edge because most dioceses around the country simply provided food to the needy through parish food pantries.
Bishop Morin used his master’s degree in urban planning from Tulane University to incorporate a more systematic approach to fighting hunger.
Ben Johnson, the president of the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce who worked with Bishop Morin for decades at the Social Apostolate, said Thursday his long-time friend was “passionate about enabling people to reach their full potential.” Bishop Morin presided at the wedding of Johnson and his wife Barbara and remained close personal friends with the family.
“He would do whatever it took to help people through education programs, youth programs, and he had a lot of affection for seniors,” Johnson said. “He had a lot to do with small business startups and expanded the commodities and supplemental food programs to include senior citizens. It was a special experience to be able to work with him.”
Hurricane Katrina was one of the somber moments of his tenure as auxiliary bishop in New Orleans. His raised, two-story residence on South Carrollton Avenue just across the street from Notre Dame Seminary survived the flooding but was gutted by a fire police believe was set by looters in the neighborhood.
Everything in his house, including treasured mementoes of the historic 1987 visit of Pope John Paul II, was destroyed. A few weeks after Katrina, digging through the rubble of his residence, he found the twisted, melted remains of the chalice and paten his family had given him upon his priestly ordination.
He was grateful that sacred vessels were meticulously restored.
“In some ways, I think I learned more authentically and truthfully to say at that given moment in time that I had lost everything, but I still had a lot to be grateful for and thank God for,” Bishop Morin said. “I still feel the same way about it.”
“He was OK with starting over,” said Father Jimmy Jeanfreau, a priest of the Archdiocese of New Orleans and a close friend. “That was a real highlight to get his chalice remade and hold on to that. His family has given it to him for his ordination.”
Daughter of Charity Sister Anthony Barczykowksi, the longtime executive director of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, said Bishop Morin “always had a heart for the poor.”
“Anytime a need presented itself, he was willing to go out there and encourage other people to do it,” Sister Anthony said. “You hear a lot today about not just giving handouts, but you do what you can to root out the causes of poverty. He lobbied for change in social structures. That’s such a big need, even today.”
Bishop Morin was installed as the third Bishop of Biloxi on April 27, 2009, at the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the late Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States, and Mobile Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi.
A native of Dracut, Mass., he was born on March 7, 1941, the son of Germain J. and Lillian E. Morin. He has one brother: Paul; and three sisters: Lillian “Pat” Johnson, Elaine (Ray) Joncas and Susan Spellissy. His parents and his brother James are deceased.
After high school and college studies, he earned a bachelor’s in philosophy in 1966 from St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass., and continued theology studies at St. John’s for two years of graduate school. In 1967 he went to New Orleans to work in its new summer Witness program, conducted by the archdiocesan Social Apostolate.
He was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Hannan on April 15, 1971, in his home parish of St. Therese in Dracut, Massachusetts. His first parish assignment was at St. Henry Parish in New Orleans. In 1973, he was appointed associate director of the Social Apostolate and in 1975 became the director, responsible for the operation of nine year-round social service centers sponsored by the archdiocese.
Bishop Morin holds a master of science degree in urban studies from Tulane University and completed a program in 1974 as a community economic developer. He was in residence at Incarnate Word Parish beginning in 1981 and served as pastor there from 1988 through April 2002. Bishop Morin is the founding president of Second Harvest Food Bank.
In 1978, he was a volunteer member of New Orleans Mayor Ernest “Dutch” Morial’s transition team dealing with federal programs and then accepted a $1 a year position as deputy special assistant to the mayor for federal programs and projects. He served the city of New Orleans until 1981, when he was appointed archdiocesan vicar for community affairs, with responsibility over nine agencies: Catholic Charities, Social Apostolate, human relations, alcoholics’ ministry, Apostleship of the Sea, cemeteries, disaster relief, hospitals and prisons. He was named a monsignor by Pope John Paul II in 1985.
One of the highlights of his priesthood came in 1987 when he directed the archdiocese’s preparations for Saint Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to New Orleans. The visit involved thousands of community volunteers and coordination among national, state and local religious and political leaders. He also coordinated the events of the bicentennial of the archdiocese in 1993. In 1995, Bishop Morin received the Weiss Brotherhood Award presented by the National Conference of Christians and Jews for his service in the field of human relations.
Bishop Morin was a member of the USCCB’s Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development 2005-2013, and served as Chairman 2008-2010. During that time, he also served as a member of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and the Committee for National Collections. In 2011, Bishop Morin received the Sister Margaret Cafferty Development of People Award from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for his work with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Bishop Morin serves on the Jesuit Social Research Institute Board, Loyola University, New Orleans.
Bishop Morin was appointed by Pope John Paul II as Auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans on February 11, 2003, and his Episcopal ordination was on April 22, 2003. He served as Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia for the Archdiocese of New Orleans 2001-2009. Bishop Morin was named Bishop of Biloxi by Pope Benedict XVI on March 2, 2009. Bishop Morin’s episcopal motto is “Walk Humbly and Act Justly.” Upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75 on March 7, 2016,
Bishop Morin submitted his letter of resignation to Pope Francis. The Holy Father accepted his resignation on December 16, 2016. Upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75 on March 7, 2016, Bishop Morin submitted his letter of resignation to Pope Francis.
Funeral arrangements for Bishop Morin are as follows:
Wednesday, Nov. 6, wake and rosary at 7 p.m.
Thursday, Nov. 7, Funeral Mass and burial at 10:30 a.m.
All events are to take place at the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral located at 870 Howard Ave., in Biloxi, Mississippi.