Retiree channels talents into teaching ESL

Patrick Morgan, 57.
Patrick Morgan, 57.

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Patrick Morgan
Who he is: Retired account executive at AT&T
Lives in: Belle Harbor, N.Y.

CAMILLE: Patrick, I have come to know you as an energetic supporter and occasional teacher at the Dorothy Bennett Mercy Center.

Please describe the mission and location of this center.

The Dorothy Bennett Mercy Center offers programs that empower families in this urban community to overcome negative influences that impact their well-being and self-sufficiency. The center is located on the grounds of the Sisters of Mercy convent at 249 Classon Avenue between Myrtle and Willoughby Avenues in the Clinton Hill/Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, N.Y.

How did you get involved with it?

My wife Mary has been catering events for Sr. Kay Crumlish and Mercy Home for years. My children were grown and I was looking for an opportunity to volunteer and use my God-given talents. I always wanted to teach English to Spanish-speaking immigrants. Mary had a conversation with Sr. Kay, who put me in touch with Sr. Kathleen Quinn, then the executive director. The next thing I knew, I was teaching English twice a week at the center!

What would you say about its leadership and other volunteers?

I had worked for AT&T for 36 years. Between my exposure to this industry-leading enterprise as well as the Fortune 500 companies I had the pleasure of servicing, I have never met a nicer group of people than those associated with the Dorothy Bennett Mercy Center. Everyone clearly understands the center's mission statement and our mutual goal is how to best serve the families that pass through its doors. There are no egos, just a focus on the mission. That is rare for any organization in this day and age.

Have you met an inspirational parent or child through the Center?

Yes. When one teaches English to an immigrant group, you rarely see any long-term results. You don't know if your students are using what they learned in your class in real life. Situations in their life impact their continued attendance to these types of courses. At one of the English as Second Language (ESL) graduation parties, a son of one of my students came up to me and thanked me for helping his mother improve her English skills. It turns out that there was an attempted assault on her in the lobby of her building. Armed with improved language skills from the ESL class, she was able to clearly articulate a message to her assailant, who ceased the attack. This one story made all of my hours of teaching ESL worthwhile.

Patrick, that's a wonderful consequence of your patient, hard work!

When I asked you what you have to contribute toward this center, you gave this flawless response:

My foreign language and organizational skills.

What do you gain from it?

The satisfaction that with the talent God gave me, I am able to serve His community.

How would you describe your own childhood?

A typical Brooklyn, Irish-Catholic childhood. I was the oldest of five children. We attended Mass every Sunday and my mother and grandmother instilled a devotion to the Blessed Mother. The importance of the family was right up there. There was also lots of sports, games and music.

How did you meet your wife?

I first met my wife Mary when I was in seventh grade. Her brother Jimmy and I were in the same class in St. Thomas Aquinas (Flatlands) school and we were involved with a science project (which, by the way, won us first place). Mary remembers me at the house. Years later we met again at a public house called the Night Owl on Flatbush Avenue.

Please tell us what she's like.

Mary is the most amazing person I have never met. I am both lucky and blessed to have her in my life. Mary is the type of person who hears that someone she knows cannot afford a baby carriage (for example). A few days later, one mysteriously appears at that family's doorstep. Her generosity is boundless and she hates being praised for any of her good deeds. This is what you are supposed to do. No "pats on the back" or parades. Just do what is right.

What do you want for your children and grandchildren?

I want my children and grandchildren to be inspired by the good deeds that Mary and I (and others) perform. They grew up never wanting anything. They should understand that they are blessed and when the time comes, they need to give back to God selflessly and also to inspire others.

A few years ago you went through a serious illness. Please describe it and its impact on your life.

Being faced with leukemia was one of the most challenging times in my life. It made me rethink everything. The one thing I discovered is that one needs to be strong physically, mentally and spiritually to survive any serious illness. There were times I didn't think I wasn't going to make it. I thank God for the talents He provided the health care workers that got me through this (specifically Dr. Todd Rosenblat and Dr. Craig Sauter and their teams). I still have the disease, but it's under control with a "next generation" treatment. I have some residual side effects, but I'm well enough to resume most of my volunteer activity.

I'd like to thank everyone who had prayed for me (and those who continue to pray for me) during my ordeal. I feel that without these prayers, I would not be here.

What sustains your faith?

Subtle messages from God. When I have asked him for His help, He has always answered. Not by a neon sign, but by subtle messages to let me know He is there.

What does Catholicism require of you?

To follow Jesus' examples in the New Testament. It's not about the literal content, it is about the simple messages, specifically, love one another and take care of those who cannot take care of themselves.
What do you want from your church?

I want my church to join the 21st century. I LOVE Pope Francis. He gets it. But I don't think we will see all of the necessary changes made during his tenure. Even though the number of Catholics worldwide is holding steady, the Church in the U.S. (and other first-world countries) needs to be revisited. The unfortunate reality is that the existing priests (as well as other religious) will be retiring or dying in the next 10 to 20 years. Those numbers will not be replaced. There will not be enough resources to say Mass, visit the sick and at the same time run day-to-day parish operations. The Vatican will need to reconsider the resources serving its flock. Radical changes will need to be made. They need to let women become priests and deacons. They should adopt the Greek Orthodox model and have married as well as celibate priests. This would immediately bolster the ranks serving the church. Some will not like the change, but it will be necessary for the Roman Catholic Church to survive the coming centuries.

Also, the Latino population in this country (which is now the largest minority and steadily growing) is severely underserved. Besides not having enough Spanish speaking priests or deacons, new immigrants are finding new religions (i.e. Evangelical storefronts) that serve their spiritual and corporal needs in their new country. Again, this is a human resource issue and the affected dioceses should think "out of the box" to serve this important community.

Personally, I think the Church should make the "Hail Mary" mandatory at every Mass. I was on vacation in Italy in 2008 and attended mass (in Italian, which I learned for the trip) in a small stone church in Tuscany. At the end of the mass, the priest had the congregation recite the "Hail Mary". It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever experienced at a mass. In my opinion, we need the honor the Blessed Mother at every mass.

Where did you go to school?

I had attended public school (PS 119 & 207) up until seventh grade because the local Catholic School (St. Thomas Aquinas) was overcrowded. Years later, things opened up so I transferred there for seventh & eighth grade. Then I attended Nazareth Regional High School. From there I went to Brooklyn College.

How do you pray?

How I pray is situational. It can be in my car. It can be in my living room when I pray the rosary (which I really need to do more). It can be at Mass. My most intense praying is when I am alone.

Do you have a favorite Scripture passage?

Not particularly. I do find the Passion of Our Lord to be the deepest and most emotional part of the New Testament, as well as the basis of our religion.

How do you relax?

Playing or listening to music. I am fortunate enough to still be playing rock and roll, the music of my youth. As a matter of fact, I am playing more gigs now than ever before. God works in mysterious ways.

What makes you happy?

Watching my three granddaughters play. After all I have been through, I thank God for letting me be around to see them grow up. I'm writing this on May 4. Grandchild number 4 is due on May 26. That is another blessed event that I'll be thanking Him for.

Do you have unfulfilled dreams? If so, what are they?

To visit the Marian shrines in Lourdes and Medjugorje. During all of my time being sick, I have asked the Blessed Mother to make me well enough to visit these shrines and give thanks. I'd also like to travel to Europe and see places I have always dreamed of visiting and to continue playing music until I am physically unable to.

Additionally, I'd like to write a book about growing up in Brooklyn. There is so much material to draw from.

What else would you like us to know?

Now that I have retired, I am looking for messages from God on how to serve Him going forward. There is a reason why I am here at this place and at this time. A friend of mine from the Dorothy Bennett Mercy Center, Joan Bisciello (herself a cancer survivor), had sent me The Prayer for Healing when I got sick. There is one line in the prayer that always resounds with me: "And Father, restore me to full health in mind and body so that I may serve You the rest of my life." I am waiting for that message, which I am sure will arrive when He thinks the time is right. 

[Mercy Sr. Camille D'Arienzo, broadcaster and author, narrates Stories of Forgiveness, a book about people whose experiences have caused them to consider the possibilities of extending or accepting forgiveness. The audiobook, renamed Forgiveness: Stories of Redemption, is available from Now You Know Media.]

Editor's note: We can send you an email alert every time Sr. Camille's column, Conversations with Sr. Camille, is posted. Go to this page and follow directions: Email alert signup.

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