By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Lee Morrison used the lessons he learned in his first teaching assignment in a sixth-grade classroom 47 years ago to guide him throughout his career as an educator in Iowa. He discovered in the mid-1970s that students learn at different levels in different ways based on many factors, including their background and income disparities. “I decided that for the rest of my career, whenever the path of a student’s success was less clear, I would do whatever I could to help that student succeed in school.”
Morrison, who retires June 30 as the Diocese of Davenport’s superintendent of schools, learned many other lessons along the way in a career that led him early on into a leadership role. By age 29, he was serving as a superintendent of schools in rural Iowa. While serving in that capacity for the Burlington Community School District, the Diocese of Davenport tapped him to be its superintendent of schools in 2010.
“The diocesan superintendency combines two things that are very dear to me — education and the Catholic faith,” Morrison told The Catholic Messenger after his appointment. Those values became the hallmark of his leadership of the diocesan Catholic schools’ system.
“Dr. Morrison is a man of the Church. He is deeply committed to his Catholic faith. This was his greatest attribute as the Superintendent of Catholic Schools,” Bishop Thomas Zinkula said.
“Beyond that, Lee brought to the table a reservoir of knowledge and experience in the discipline of education. He was an administrator for many, many years. Finally, his soft skills — for example, a good sense of humor, a compassionate heart and a collaborative mindset — round out the picture. We will miss him.”
“We have all witnessed firsthand his dedication to our schools through his emphasis on making our schools faith-filled, academically challenging and intrinsically safe,” said Andy Craig, president of Assumption High School in Davenport. “His personality and leadership style have been empowering and helped all of us to increase our capacities to be self-sufficient leaders. Personally, I have thoroughly enjoyed working with Dr. Morrison and appreciate his advice, guidance as a leader and sense of humor during our conversations.”
“His leadership has helped to guide our uniquely different schools, with the focus being quality Catholic education,” said Celeste Vincent, principal of Regina Elementary School in Iowa City. “He has supported his schools in times of celebration and times of tragedy. A superintendent of Catholic schools is called to lead not only a large geographic region with a wide variety of settings, but lead with faith in mind at all times. Lee has done this. We say thank you Dr. Morrison for always wanting the best for your students, staff, and administrators. May you have a blessed retirement!”
Bill Maupin, principal of Burlington Notre Dame Schools, said Morrison has been “a guiding force for Catholic education in the diocese. He has been able to lead through some difficult situations, such as the pandemic, with a common-sense approach to the issues we faced. It has been an honor to work with him.”
Morrison does not seek credit or accolades, preferring to empower the leaders of each of the diocese’s 14 schools to address the unique needs of their Catholic school communities. He does take pride in maintaining school enrollment during his tenure, guiding the process that produced “A Strategic Plan for Catholic School Education,” making strides in Catholic identity in the schools and advances in technology.
The increased emphasis on Catholic identity is important “because that’s why we (Catholic schools) are here.” That emphasis led his office to collaborate with the Faith Formation office to create a catechists certification program for teachers, implemented in the 2017-18 academic year. New teachers also participate in a “What is ministry” course. Each diocesan high school has a campus minister, designated to oversee the school’s liturgical programming. Schools are to incorporate Catholic Social Teaching across the curriculum and to place an emphasis on volunteerism and the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, Morrison said.
He spoke of an emphasis on building relationships between schools and parishes, with pastors active in the school life and students, faculty and staff active in parish life. He has been amazed to witness the sacrifices parents and benefactors make for Catholic education. However, greater financial support across the diocese is essential. He expresses disappointment at not achieving new funding sources that would make Catholic schools affordable for more families and increase the salaries of teachers while relieving parish budgets for the schools. “I hoped we would have a capital campaign to bolster Catholic education, but that didn’t happen.” Lessening the disappointment a bit is the Iowa Legislature’s approval this year of an expansion in the School Tuition Organization (STO) and Tuition and Textbook Tax Credit.
Among Morrison’s greatest joys was working with outstanding principals in the diocese. “My greatest joy is seeing Catholic youths celebrating Mass together. I’m excited when we celebrate Mass with youths in schools in the diocese. It’s just a great experience to work with young people.”
In his retirement letter to Bishop Thomas Zinkula, Lee Morrison wrote, “Bishop, it has been a pleasure to serve you and the people affiliated with Catholic education. I admire your sincere desire to renew the faith of our people. You are an inspiration.”
He asked the bishop for his prayers as Morrison begins a new phase of his life (without a single hobby). “I have always believed change is good for individuals and institutions. We will all be just fine. Sandy (Morrison’s wife) and I are planning to move to rural Williamsburg central to our children. Our only plans are to travel, spend time with family and help other people. I will work to ensure the success of my successor. It has been a joy to serve as the superintendent for the Diocese of Davenport these past 11 years.”