April 26, 2019

Award winner strives to build a better world

By John Shaughnessy

James MorrisWhen James and Jackie Morris wanted to create a visible reminder in their home about the parts of life that matter most to them, the list initially included these four foundations:

Faith, family, friends and community.

Still, the more they talked about it, the couple thought one other foundation needed to be added.

“Initially, we didn’t have ‘vocation,’ ” James Morris says. “But the more we thought about it, you’re guided by your vocation—what you’re called, chosen, guided to do.”

So on every mantle in the Morris’ home, this saying is ingrained, “Thank God for faith, family, friends, community and vocation.”

That focus has guided the 76-year-old Morris during a career dedicated to making the world better at every turn, including: helping to transform Indianapolis into a major city, serving as the executive director of the United Nation’s World Food Programme to lessen worldwide hunger, and being the United States’ permanent representative to the executive board of UNICEF, which focuses on improving the lives of children around the world.

For all his efforts, Morris will be honored with one of the archdiocese’s 2019 Spirit of Service awards, an honor that he will receive on April 30 in Indianapolis during a celebration that will mark the 100th anniversary of Catholic Charities in central and southern Indiana.

“It’s important for everyone to be driven to make a difference in the lives of those around them, to build great communities and great institutions,” Morris says. “And I know that none of that can be done alone. When I was at the World Food Programme, my motto was, ‘Do more. Do it better. And do it together.’ ”

Among his many influences in Indiana, Morris has served as the president of Lilly Endowment, Inc., founded the Indiana Sports Corporation and helped bring the Pan American Games and the National Collegiate Athletic Association headquarters to Indianapolis.

Currently the vice chairman of Pacers Sports & Entertainment, the father of three and the grandfather of eight also is focused on reducing hunger among children in Indianapolis.

“We need to find our niche—where’s my opportunity to make a difference in the quality of life, and where’s my opportunity to give a boost to someone who’s at risk, and sad and lonely, especially a child.”

Morris considers all his outreaches as an extension of his faith in God, and what God calls people to do in life.

“My faith life is a steady vigil,” he says. “It’s with me all the time. I think about those things that bring us together and those fundamental commandments that we are compelled to follow to make a difference.

“At the end of the day, God loves us. God expects us to love each other, and that means having our arms open, being sensitive and caring, serving, sharing and doing the best we can with all that’s given us, and having respect across the board for each other.”

Morris reflects a humble pride when he shares that he and his wife Jackie have been married for 54 years and they have been members of Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis for more than 45 years.

He also expresses a sincere gratitude to the archdiocese for choosing him for a Spirit of Service Award. He views accepting the honor as an opportunity to “tell the world how significant the work of the Catholic community is, how much difference the Catholic community makes.”

At the same time, he says, “Your real rewards come from seeing those around you boosted. You never feel so good about yourself as when you’re doing something for someone else.

“I believe that fundamental to life is an innate, inherent interest to make things better, to lift up each other, to find community, to see the best of someone else, to have wonderful friendships.”

Morris has lived that life. †

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