Jamie Morris and Deacon Tyler McClay were representing the Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC) at a brutally contentious hearing in the State Capitol.
Mr. Morris slipped out while Deacon McClay was getting hammered by one of the lawmakers.
“I went across the street to the Adoration Chapel and texted Tyler, ‘I’m over here, praying for you,’” Mr. Morris recalled. “I can’t think of anything that would have been remotely as helpful in that moment.”
“It speaks to the power of prayer and the Eucharist,” said Mr. Morris, the MCC’s newly-appointed executive director and general counsel.
“The Eucharist is why I’m Catholic,” he added.
Mr. Morris succeeds Deacon McClay, who recently moved to St. Louis to be closer to family.
“I have huge shoes to fill,” Mr. Morris stated.
The MCC is the public-policy agency for Missouri’s four Roman Catholic dioceses.
Its executive director and staff work with the state’s bishops to promote Gospel values in the public square, mostly by advocating for laws and government policies that promote the common good and reflect the inherent sanctity and dignity of all human life.
The bishops work collegially through the MCC as its executive board of directors. The agency’s Public Policy Committee (PPC), made up of knowledgeable and engaged people appointed from each diocese by the bishops, advises them on public policy matters and legislative priorities.
As executive director and general counsel, Mr. Morris will work with lawmakers and state agencies on shaping the bishops’ priorities into effective public policy.
“In a lot of ways, it’s evangelizing,” said Mr. Morris. “It’s just a different way of bringing the truth of the Catholic faith to the public square.”
He noted that part of the beauty of Church teaching is its tendency toward “both/and,” rather than “either/or.”
“Especially in this time in history, we offer an answer to a lot of the polarization that’s going on in society, and try to get that across in our advocacy,” he said.
The supreme law
Mr. Morris, a member of Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish in Jefferson City, grew up in Mary’s Home and graduated from Our Lady of the Snows School and Eugene High School before studying political science and law at the University of Missouri.
“I describe myself as a Catholic, a husband, a father, an attorney and lobbyist who is now blessed to be able to work with the bishops of our Church,” he said.
He joined the MCC in September 2018 as legislative counsel, lobbying primarily on issues related to the pro-life cause and marriage and family.
He previously worked as an attorney with the Missouri Department of Insurance, where he helped draft and implement legislation and administrative rules.
He and his wife, Kristan, have three sons, ages 13, 11 and 9.
Mrs. Morris teaches at St. Joseph Cathedral School in Jefferson City, where their sons are students.
In all things, charity
Mr. Morris said he can’t think of work he’d rather do than this.
“It’s such a dream job, being able to work with people on both sides of an aisle and at least try to get the message of the Church out there,” he said.
“Where else can someone with my background go to put their faith into action in such an immediate and impactful way?” he stated.
He believes one of the MCC’s most important roles is to educate Catholics and other Missourians of faith and goodwill about important issues and the solid reasons behind the positions the bishops take.
“It’s helpful when we provide background and context when people ask us, ‘Why are we taking a stand on this?’” he said.
He noted that the Church could take an official position on just about any issue, “but we also have the prudence to know that we can’t and shouldn’t be involved on every issue.”
He spoke of the importance of speaking the truth with compassion and charity.
He lauded the professionalism and Christian witness of Deacon McClay, his predecessor, who served as the MCC’s general counsel since 2010 and executive director since 2018.
“The earliest advice he gave me was that this is a contact sport, that it can get very ugly,” said Mr. Morris. “He told me to remember that I work for the bishops and represent the Church, and to act accordingly.”
“That’s how we have to operate,” Mr. Morris continued. “Yes, it can get ugly sometimes, even among Catholics who are on opposite sides of contentious issues. You have to get to the point where you don’t take it personally.”
At the same time, working in the Capitol presents numerous opportunities for random conversations with people he’d never have a chance to meet otherwise.
“It’s amazing how many personal stories you get to hear just by being present and having people know who you represent,” Mr. Morris noted. “People open up to you and trust you, and you start hearing all kinds of things about their faith and their background.”
Mr. Morris said the state’s bishops work very well together and take their role with the MCC seriously.
The first thing they asked after appointing him executive director was, “What do you need from us? What can we do to help you?”
“It’s great to know that with all the things the bishops have going on, they’re always willing to listen to us and help us make decisions on the issues we bring to them,” he said.
Mr. Morris described the MCC staff as “tremendous.”
“We have been blessed with a great staff,” he said. “Some have been here 30-plus years, some for less than three months, but they all bring terrific faith and dedication to the job. They made accepting this appointment very easy for me.”
He spoke of the MCC’s Citizen Action Network, made up of Catholics throughout the state who contact their lawmakers in anticipation of important votes.
“It’s vitally important as a way to get our message out and show or legislators that Catholics care about and are paying attention to what they do,” said Mr. Morris.
It’s one thing for lawmakers and policymakers to hear from representatives of the Church, he said; it’s quite another for them to be in touch with their constituents.
“Most of them would rather hear from one of their neighbors, from people in their community,” he said. “There is real power in that, and we continue to draw on it.”
A new horizon
Mr. Morris said recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions on issues including abortion, school choice and religious freedom open the door to new opportunities and new battles in public policy.
“We’ve done a great job addressing the supply of abortion,” he stated. “Now we have to have some difficult conversations about how to address the demand for abortion, and how to make abortion unthinkable.”
He said an impressive array of organizations throughout the state, many of them faith-based, are meeting women and families in crisis where they are, and giving them the help they need.
Another recent Supreme Court decision, Carson v. Makin, could open the door to helping families who send their children to faith-based private schools.
“Over the past few years, especially with the pandemic, we’ve seen increased interest in education alternatives and school choice,” Mr. Morris noted. “I plan to put some focus on education and what kind of benefits could come from our efforts to promote Catholic schools.”
Enthusiastic and motivated, Mr. Morris said it’s always important for him to slow down, take a breath and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance before jumping into a task or conversation.
“Any good I do over there (in the Capitol) is not my own,” he said. “It’s the Holy Spirit, and it’s hopefully being lifted up on a lot of prayers.”
He asks for people to pray for him and his coworkers, “for the strength and guidance not just to make a difference but to truly reflect the beauty of the Church and her teaching.”
“If we can spread the Good News through our work on public policy, that can be a really great thing,” he said.
He also requested prayers for lawmakers and their staff members, especially during the legislative session.
“The Capitol can be a tough place,” he noted. “There are a lot of ways for things to become difficult.”
He thanked Deacon McClay for being a great mentor and friend, and for leaving the MCC in great shape.
“Tyler really set us up for success, as I’m sure those who went before him did,” said Mr. Morris. “And I hope that one day, I’ll be able to hand it over to my successor in as good of shape as I received it.”