Last year, Jesuit Father Bruce Morrill, was enjoying a comfortable post teaching and writing at Boston College, a Jesuit-run institution in a heavily Catholic city. But last spring, on his annual eight-day silent retreat, he began thinking about how he might better fulfill the Jesuit mission of “going out to the frontiers.”
The frontier, in this case, is a secular university in an overwhelmingly Protestant city. Fr. Morrill, the recently appointed Edward A. Malloy Chair of Catholic Studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, has only been in town a few months, but is already finding his presence is much needed at the school and in the community.
The only Jesuit priest currently serving in the Diocese of Nashville, Morrill has begun serving as the de facto spiritual advisor for the group of seven Jesuit Volunteer Corps members in Nashville. These recent college graduates who live in community and work at social justice organizations around town rely on Father Morrill’s support.
“It seems to be a really good fit,” Father Morrill said of his newly adopted city. “The people are fantastic, at Vandy and in the wider community,” he said.
In his first semester teaching at Vanderbilt, Morrill is teaching two master’s level courses and one doctoral seminar. His current courses are “Suffering, Politics and Liberation,” which is a survey of European, North and South American theologies; and “Aquinas, Rahner, and Metz,” a doctoral seminar on “one trajectory of 20th century Roman Catholic theology,” he explained.
A widely published theological scholar, Morrill focuses his research and writing on liturgy and the sacraments, with a particular interest in ritual, cultural anthropology, political theology, and investigating the problems of suffering in social contexts.
Next semester he’ll teach the second-half of a year-long required course in constructive theology for the Master of Divinity students, and then an advanced seminar in liturgical theology.
As Morrill’s seen so far, his presence is definitely a welcome addition to the “frontiers” of the Catholic Church in Nashville. The Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, were founded more than 450 years ago “to be available for missions and do things that nobody else can do,” Father Morrill said. “We were founded from the start to be men who are mobile and can work alone.”