WHETHER he agrees with the description or not, Fr Morgan Batt is one “cool” priest.
Exceptionally friendly, impressively educated, articulate and pastoral are immediate impressions from even just a brief visit to his office as the new vocations director for Brisbane archdiocese.
Also impressively fit, Fr Morgan soon speaks of his many “loves” – of God and His Church, of the pursuit of knowledge and understanding for ministry among more than a dozen degrees and, of course, of mountaineering.
“One of the reasons I really like climbing is because a number of people see a priest as being the ‘Holy Joe’ in the Church with the white gown on,” he said.
“I like to show them … there’s another side to priesthood.”
That “other side” has had the Brisbane-born “Padre” – as he’s likely best known – climb “thousands of mountains … (including) the highest peak of every nation including the North and South Pole”.
“Being a priest, I have very graciously been given the gift to celebrate the Eucharist and I love to do it on those mountains and give thanks to God,” Fr Morgan said.
“Any number of references in the Bible can show you that mountains are pretty special – the place where heaven and earth meet.
“Jesus Christ preached on a mountain, he prayed on a mountain, he was crucified on a mountain and finally ascended from a mountain.
“Mountains teach me about life because they always present different scenarios to you and you have to rely on your whole accumulated life experience of body, mind and soul to survive them.”
Fr Morgan, whose father died when he was six years old, has certainly packed his life with adventure.
That adventure began growing up in “a lively household” with three brothers on Brisbane’s northside.
Following an education at St Columban’s College, Albion, five years of working a mix of labour-intensive and hospitality jobs preceded his enrolment in the then Pius XII Seminary, Banyo, (now Holy Spirit Provincial Seminary, Banyo).
Asked from where his vocation emanated, the response aligned with Fr Morgan’s constant and well-known frankness.
“A priest suggested I should become a priest,” he said.
“Even though I did other things (after school), I was always thinking about it and discerning, talking to people.
“I talked to my girlfriend at the time about it and she even agreed … she thought I had too much love for just one person.”
Heading into the seminary after “not picking up a pen or reading a book” during those five years post-school, proved a challenge.
“The study was hard at first,” Fr Morgan said.
“I failed two subjects in my first year in the seminary. It was a discipline.”
Immersing himself in the study and ordained in 1991, Fr Morgan spent a few years in parishes and was chaplain at Australian Catholic University (ACU), Banyo, for a stint as well as state spiritual adviser for the St Vincent de Paul Society.
Maintaining a “finger on the pulse” on the youth and young adults’ scene, he also was appointed chaplain at Enoggera Army Barracks – that brand of ministry extending to time served in the Middle East and further study.
“I decided to study international politics,” Fr Morgan said of his military chaplaincy.
“I wanted to become more familiar with government policy and the rationale behind political lines to inform my ministry.”
Throughout those years Fr Morgan also studied psychology as an extension of his skill base.
He readily admits time in prayer buoyed his ability to minister to the Australian troops.
“I was often called upon to explain the big questions of life,” Fr Morgan said.
“Questions like, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Where am I going?’ and ‘What else is there in life for me?’
“I didn’t ever see myself as a counsellor.
“Some of the other chaplains (from other faith backgrounds) would hang up the phone and say ‘Cheers’ … I would challenge them and say, ‘Why don’t you finish with ‘God bless’.”
Fr Morgan said the men and women of the military also looked to him – their “Padre” – for insight and explanation of Middle Eastern culture and traditions.
With such an array of studies and experiences under his belt, the well-tanned pastor feels “excited and scared at the same time” of taking the reigns as vocations director.
“It’s such an immense responsibility and I want to get it right,” he said.
“Discerning your vocation is so important – whether you decide to be married, single, consecrated or ordained … I encourage people to make a decision, a choice, and focus on that.
“If you go to a smorgasbord you are often overwhelmed by the choices.
“I say, ‘Just go up and start with just the prawns’ … and choosing your vocation is like that – you make a choice and go from there.
“I am here to help be a filter for discernment.”
Just as those comments hung in the air, the phone rang.
Encouraging Fr Morgan to answer, he recognised the voice as a young man who has started with “just the prawns”.
“Why don’t we meet and go for a brisk walk,” Fr Morgan said to the caller after some initial chit-chat.
Their meeting time was made and the realisation further dawned that Fr Morgan is just the kind of “cool priest for the job” of vocations director.
To walk, run, climb a mountain with or just simply speak with Fr Morgan contact him on (07) 3336 9203 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org