It has long been said that we should value those we meet for they may pass this way only once in our lives. There has been one exception with me in a very special and magnetic person who keeps returning, with a keen perception of his flock, as a Catholic priest.
Father Richard Morse can easily be located in any gathering of people because of his infectious laugh that is recognized immediately and without question by those who have known him over the years in the Central Valley. Dick Morse, as he introduces himself, was the longtime pastor of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Manteca before being assigned to a diocese in Toledo, Ohio for some four years. Just recently he left Toledo being drawn back to the Central Valley where he has friends and memories and where he has grown to call the region home. It was his idea to move back to the valley. He has been named administrator of St. Mary’s of the Annunciation Catholic Church in Oakdale bringing his pet sheltie “Gus” along with him into the parish house. Despite his age, Gus continues to be very devoted and follows close to his master.
My wife Mary Lou and I and most of our family members met Fr. Morse at Central Catholic High School in Modesto where our kids spent four years of their lives preparing for college. It was after being the high school principal there that he moved on to Manteca. I was able to spend a little time with him recently and learned of his plans to make St. Mary’s an even better place for its parishioners with a few needed improvements in the near future to the church building.
Many of us were concerned when he left Manteca because of his weight. He has taken care of that and many of his former parishioners and his friends will notice there is a reduced profile when they meet him again. More simply, he has lost weight to better his health and he doesn’t look his age. What so many of us appreciate in this man of God is that he gets to the point in personal conversations as well as in his sermons. There is no “fire and brimstone” but you won’t forget what he had to say when he has said it – a motivational speaker and a spirited conversationalist.
Fr. Morse is a member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. He follows the teachings in St. John’s Gospel referring to different nationalities: “The more people who work together, the more people will come.” His Oakdale church has a mixture of cultures in the congregation with two Hispanic masses every Sunday.
St. Mary’s was established as a mission church back in 1888 after Fr. Thomas McGuire of Modesto supervised the building of a small 100-seat church for the congregation in the north part of the community. It was late in 1952 that the current church was built and mass was first celebrated on that Christmas Day. The original church building, that had been located on Yosemite Avenue, had burned to the ground – faulty electrical wiring was the suspected cause.
Many Ripon, Manteca and Escalon residents will likely remember the name of Tom Ciccarelli, who was named the second permanent deacon at the Oakdale church in 2007. Monsignor Aloys Conrad Gruber has served as the church pastor since 1996. Along with the two priests, Fr. Anthony Chacko serves as the associate. The church is at 1225 Olive Ave., Oakdale.