Parishioner wants 103rd birthday to benefit her church

When Anne Morrissey celebrates her 103rd birthday May 13th she wants family, friends and well-wishers to take the money they would have spent on gifts and donate it to the restoration fund of St. Peter the Apostle, Libertytown – her beloved parish of 71 years.

The feisty Libertytown centenarian with the slight Irish brogue said the church needs the money more than ever to rebuild, following a devastating June 2004 fire, and she is happy to forgo birthday gifts to complete construction before she turns 104.

“I have everything I need,” she said, “except being able to worship in my church.”

Though Ms. Morrissey is content attending Mass in the parish center for the time being, she would like to see parish life return to normal and put the tragedy of the fire behind her.

A tireless fundraiser for the parish, the Irish-born mother of two, grandmother of 11, great-grandmother of 23 and great-great-grandmother of four is unrelenting when it comes to supporting the St. Peter the Apostle community.

As the oldest living parishioner of St. Peter’s, she continues to sell more tickets for the church’s annual quilt raffle than anyone else – usually more than 1,000 chances – making her the quintessential fundraiser for the place of worship.

“She doesn’t let anyone get out of here without buying several tickets each year,” said Madeline Stevens, the 77-year-old daughter with whom Ms. Morrissey lives. “People don’t say no to her.”

The former Anne Collins arrived in Philadelphia in 1922, married Benjamin Morrissey in 1926 and moved to the Libertytown area 10 years later with her husband and two young daughters.

Upon the family’s arrival, they joined St. Peter’s and within a year Ms. Morrissey established the parish’s gift shop, which she ran until she broke her hip in 1991.

Over the years Ms. Morrissey attended scores of special occasions at the church, which included the weddings of both of her daughters, the baptisms, first Communions and confirmations of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“I’m definitely invested in this parish,” she said. “When I was in my 80s, they allowed me to crown the Blessed Mother on my birthday. In that fire, that Blessed Mother wasn’t hurt. She was just covered in soot.”

Many changes have occurred in the faith during the past 103 years, some of which didn’t agree with Ms. Morrissey’s sensibilities.

For instance, she still receives Communion on the tongue instead of in her hand.

However, Ms. Morrissey would prefer canon law be altered to allow ordained priests to marry.

“If this doesn’t change, it’s going to be even harder to attract good men to the priesthood,” she said. “We already have a shortage of priests, and this rule isn’t helping the cause.”

Though Ms. Stevens is amazed to see her mother as vibrant as she prepares to celebrate her 103rd birthday, Ms. Morrissey’s parents didn’t expect their eighth child of 11 to even reach her first birthday.

“I got the measles when I was a baby and my uncle told my parents I wasn’t going to survive,” Ms. Morrissey said. “I guess I was a little heartier than he expected me to be.”

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.