Q and A with Craig Morrison
by Jennifer Pelligrini,
NF-Review staff writer
This article originally appeared in the
Niagara Falls, Ontario, “Review,” October
4th, 2004. Reprinted with permission.
Reverend Craig Morrison didn’t
need subtitles to watch The
Passion of the Christ. The
45-year-old Niagara Falls native has
taught Aramaic—the language spoken
at the time of Christ, and in the
movie—at the Pontifical Biblical Institute
in Rome for the past fifteen years.
It’s a far different role than he
thought he’d have when he became a
Carmelite priest. Back then, he
thought he’d play an active role in
the lives of parishioners or students,
much like his role models at Saint
Patrick’s Church and Notre Dame
He has grown accustomed to life
as a priestly academic, which takes
him all over the world. But his heart
and his family remain in Niagara
Falls. For the last twelve years he has
returned to the city every summer to
teach religion to new teachers in the
Niagara Catholic District School
Board and to catch up with family
and friends. Recently Morrison consented
to an email interview, which
he worked on while at a conference
in Beirut, Lebanon.
Q: Was there a moment when you
said: “this is what I’m going to be?”
A: When I was in high school.
Father Joseph O’Brien was pastor of
Saint Patrick’s. I observed him, a
dynamic and caring priest who truly
walks with his parishioners in their
daily struggles. I thought to myself, “I
want to do that too.”
Q: How many languages do you
A: I like to say that no matter how
many languages I know, there are still
about 5,000 I do not know. I hope I
speak and write fairly good English. I
teach in Italian—I can do a bit more
than ordering pasta in a Roman trattoria.
At times I rely on high school
French to get me through a conversation.
It served me well in Lebanon.
The Latin I learned in high school
has also proven useful in my academic
life. As for other languages, those that
I know are, for the most part, no
longer spoken, at least in their classical
forms. I learned these languages
in order to read and study the Bible
in its original languages—Hebrew,
Aramaic and Greek. But my primary
ancient language is Aramaic.
Q: What do you do at the
Pontifical Biblical Institute?
A: My work in this Institute
involves studying and teaching
Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps Jesus spoke a bit of Greek,
too, but whenever he taught, especially
in Galilee, he always spoke
Aramaic; otherwise, he would not
have been understood. Many Jewish
and Christian documents written
around the turn of the Christian era
are in Aramaic. These are the kinds of
documents I study and teach.
Q: What do you like most about
your life today?
A: I enjoy the challenge of
making the Bible come alive for
people. I try to balance the rather
intense academic research in biblical
languages with teaching people how
to read and appreciate the Bible.
Over the past twelve summers I have
returned to Niagara to work with the
teachers of the Niagara Catholic
District School Board. During a threeweek
religion course, I watch their
enthusiasm grow as they come to a
deeper and more adult understanding
of the Bible and their