The Gerber Institute for Catholic Studies at Newman University will present Father Bill Morton, a Columban priest from El Paso, Texas, at a lecture set for 7 p.m. on Nov. 2 in the Performance Hall of the De Mattias Fine Arts Center on the Newman campus, 3100 McCormick in Wichita. The lecture is free and open to the public.
Father Morton’s presentation, entitled “This Land is My Home,” is the first in a Gerber Institute Visiting Speakers’ Series on the topic of land. He will address issues of land use and property rights in the context of Catholic social thought. The focus of his lecture is to highlight some of the important ways that people connect with land as a place of belonging and a source of identity.
Since 2003 Father Morton has been closely involved with a land dispute between local people and a prominent Mexican family in Lomas del Poleo, Mexico. The area, which is close to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and Sunland Park, N.M., has become increasingly valuable in recent years as development moves toward a planned bi-national city in the area to be named Jeronimo-Santa Teresa. The area is expected to become a new international crossing and a border business hub within the next few years. The family has allegedly blocked involvement by local people for a number of years and has now brought negotiations to a halt through threatening actions. In 2006 Father Morton was fined and forced to leave Mexico for his actions on behalf of local residents, and has continued advocating for the people from El Paso.
“In focusing on the topic of land for the 2011-2012 academic year, the Gerber Institute hopes to promote dialogue and reflection about the many ways that land matters to us,” said Associate Professor of Philosophy and Gerber Institute Director Jamey Findling, Ph.D. “Father Morton’s intimate involvement in the land dispute in Lomas del Poleo, Mexico, has given him a unique perspective on the significance land can have, as property and as a home or dwelling place, as well as on the profoundly difficult challenges that can arise when these meanings of land come into conflict with each other. I also look forward to hearing Father Morton talk about the Catholic teachings on social justice that have guided his involvement in the conflict in Lomas del Poleo.”
Father Morton’s lecture will also include comments on how dislocation from one’s homeland affects individual and group identity, and on the use and abuse of land as it concerns the environment – specifically the crisis of global warming.
Father Morton was an air traffic controller in the United States Navy before joining the Columban Fathers in 1975. He worked with the African-American Catholic community on the south side of Chicago, Ill., and then was assigned to Taiwan where he did parish ministry and helped the foreign worker community for five years. After returning to America, he completed a master’s degree in theological studies at LaSalle University in Philadelphia. He has his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minn., and master’s degree in divinity from Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass.
The Gerber Institute is named for the Most Rev. Eugene J. Gerber, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Wichita, and was founded to help strengthen Catholic studies and Catholic identity at Newman University. The Gerber Institute’s theme for the past several years is “Reconciling Differences.”
For more information about The Gerber Institute for Catholic Studies at Newman University, visit www.gerberinstitute.org or call 316-942-4291, ext. 2798.