As a young man, he studied the life and works of Blessed John Henry Newman, also known as Cardinal Newman, and could not shake his simple motto “Cor ad cor loquitur”, “Heart speaks to heart.”
“That phrase of his really fit with me in terms of my personality, and was a special inspiration to me in my vocation,” he said in a recent interview with The Miscellany. “It’s all about the desire of the human heart to join into a presence with God, and that is a big part of my role — to help others discern the presence of God in their lives.”
The words have guided him since his ordination on June 29, 1989, and help put the years into focus as he celebrates his 25th jubilee.
He grew up Catholic in Natchitoches, La., the oldest of three boys of the late James Moran Sr. and Bernadine Moran, his beloved mother who he proudly says will turn 90 in August.
He laughs as he recalls bits and pieces of a childhood deeply rooted in faith. Back then, the Mass was still in Latin and he recalls strict lessons from his parish priest on how to properly serve as an altar boy.
His mother, a skilled seamstress, once made him a Franciscan friar outfit for a Mardi Gras costume party when he was in the first grade.
“It had everything, a skull cap, a rosary,” he said. “I won first prize. I think the Lord must have been trying to get me to look at religious life from very early on. I like to think the Lord called me from the get go.”
He made the decision to become a priest in eighth grade, but didn’t attend high school seminary, although it was an option in Louisiana. After graduating from Catholic high school, he entered St. Joseph Seminary outside New Orleans. He completed studies there and then attended Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, where he considered becoming a priest in the Diocese of Lafayette.
While at Notre Dame, however, he wrote a college paper that changed his life. He was researching Cardinal Newman’s “The Apology,” and discovered that the cardinal was an Oratorian. The religious order’s history intrigued him.
He decided he wanted to join and moved to the Oratory in Rock Hill, where he was eventually ordained.
Father Moran has served at parishes in the Rock Hill area, and led campus ministry at Winthrop University for about six years. He left the state to serve as pastor at a Louisiana parish from 1996-2001 and then worked in parishes in Hawaii from 2001-2009.
The Oratorian returns to Hawaii each summer to fill in for a fellow priest while he goes on vacation, but Rock Hill is his true home. He helps out as a supply priest, especially in churches where a priest is needed to celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and visits area nursing homes and hospitals.
He also carries out the Oratorian charism of outreach to lay people by serving as a spiritual director, which he truly considers a labor of the heart.
“I can assist people in their growth in the faith, something that would often be difficult for a parish priest because they’re occupied with administrative duties,” he said. “I enjoy it so much because I feel it is in keeping with the vision of St. Philip Neri, our founder. He believed one of his jobs was always to be a spiritual minister to people. He kept the key to his room under a mat so people who needed him could get to him.” Father Moran usually works with two or three people at a time, meeting with them privately every two weeks or so to guide them in prayer, Scripture study and other aspects of the faith.
“I listen to them tell the story of what’s been going on in their lives, and try to help them listen to what God might be saying to them,” Father Moran said. “It’s important to ask the right questions so you help them find God’s message for them.”
The Oratorian is one of those people who always seems to have a smile on his face, and that expression doesn’t change when he reflects on the past 25 years.
“I feel the same way I did when I reached my 59th birthday on May 21,” he said. “Some people look at 59 and say half my life is over. I look at my birthday and my jubilee and say I’m happy that this priest has arrived at this point in his life. I’m happy and proud that despite tosses and turns, ups and downs, and some confusion in the Church over the years, that I am part of the Church and part of a community that contributes to the spread of the faith.”
Father Moran will celebrate his jubilee with an 11 a.m. Mass on June 21 at St. Anne Church in Rock Hill, followed by a luncheon.
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