SAGINAW - The Most Rev. Joseph R. Cistone, Bishop of Saginaw, recently celebrated the Red Mass at the Cathedral of Mary of the Assumption in Saginaw where Donna T. Morris was named this year’s McArdle Award winner.
The McArdle Award is presented annually by the Thomas More Society to the lawyer or judge in the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw who displays legal excellence, has made significant contributions to his or her community and represents the best in the legal profession.
“The life and work of this year’s recipient embodies both the principles we strive for as lawyers, and the work asked of us by Jesus Christ,” said Magistrate Judge Charles Binder, who presented the award to Morris.
"I am so honored to receive this prestigious award in our Cathedral,” said Donna Morris. “My Catholic faith has always been my rock. It has carried me through the tough times and guided me through the everyday challenges and decisions I had to make.”
In 1973, when her husband died, Morris began attending law school while raising a family. She graduated from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in 1977 and two years later was appointed Midland County Probate Judge where she served for the next 21 years.
During that time, she served as a faculty member of the Michigan Judicial Institute, teaching classes on mental health cases, along with guardian and conservatorship matters, and abused and neglected children cases. She undertook a six-year process culminating in revisions to the Michigan mental health code.
On behalf of the Michigan Probate Judges Association, she wrote an Amicus Curiae brief filed in the Michigan Supreme Court for the case of In Re Macomber, 436 Mich. 386 (1990). The Court agreed with her position, and held that the probate court had jurisdiction not only over an abused child, but also over the abusive father of that child, and thus expanded the Probate Court’s authority, giving it the power to order the abusive father to vacate the home.
“I am so proud to be a lawyer and I sincerely believe that it is a most noble profession,” said Morris. “As lawyers, we have the ability to help those who do not understand their rights and are unable to advocate for themselves.”
Morris served on the Thomas M. Cooley Law School Board of Directors from 1980 until 2002 and was even made an honorary Doctor of Laws by the school. She also served on many boards including: 1016 House for in-home substance abuse treatment, Counsel on Domestic Violence; Crisis Telephone Service and Salvation Army.
“Her generosity continues to this day,” said Magistrate Judge Charles Binder. “She continues to open her home to share the holidays with mentally ill and developmentally disabled people. In Matthew 25:40, Christ said, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.' I know of no better way to describe Probate Judge Donna Morris. I am humbled to have the privilege of presenting her the Edward McArdle Award.”
The McArdle Award is named in honor of the late Edward McArdle of Saginaw who facilitated the formation of a group of lawyers and judges in the Saginaw diocese called the Thomas More Fellows. The purpose of the group was to help organize and promote celebration of the Red Mass.
The first Red Mass in the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw was celebrated in 1987 and has been celebrated annually since that time. The custom of a special Mass for the Bench and Bar arose in Europe in the early 13th century and is offered to invoke divine guidance and strength during the coming term of Court. The Red Mass came to be known as such due to the red vestments worn in honor of the Holy Spirit as well as the red robes worn by the judges of the High Court in the time of King Edward I, who were all doctors of the law.