I have known George Morton for a good long time, more than two decades. He’s among the many people I’ve had the pleasure to know because our mutual work on behalf of the Church intersects here and there.
For nearly 30 years, he’s worked for the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate at Marycrest, their motherhouse in Monroe. He’s not shy about his endeavors for the sisters, a good trait because he happens to be their director of public relations.
One of his responsibilities is serving as editor of their appropriately named magazine, The Parish Visitor. He’s good enough to send me a copy and as I was paging through a recent issue a few months back, I was startled to find a first-person article by George about his diagnosis with an aggressive, rare cancer in summer 2018.
You might think that it would be hard to read, or at least heavy-hearted reading, but then you don’t know George. He’s one of the most faithful Catholics I know. Instead of a chronicle of his various diagnoses and treatments, which would have been quite understandable, George spent the entire four-page article speaking about his Catholic faith and how it guided his encounters with everyone he met, especially at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, where he has spent a fair amount of time for treatment.
In his first stays at Sloan Kettering, his first six roommates were Catholic. You may wonder how he found out about the religion of each one, but again that’s part of the wonder of George. “Was this pure chance?” he wrote in his article, before answering, “I don’t think so because I was able to talk to four of them about God and His sacraments in brief or lengthy conversations. My time with the other two was so short that I could only learn that they are Catholics. One happy couple came from India. The other was a very happy Irish family.”
On the phone last week, George told me about befriending the parents of another patient, a young woman of 27, who he saw only once before her death.
Actually, he saw only her eyes and not the rest of her face, which was covered by a surgical mask. “She smiled with her eyes,” he remembered. “Her eyes sparkled joy.”
George gave me some practical advice he learned from spending a considerable amount of time in the hospital, namely how you can make the experience better for others.
He advised patients to bring pictures of their family, or photos of some place you like to be, say a park. “They’re not for you. They’re for the staff. You can make them happy. Change the relationships you have in the hospital, just by having the photographs,” he said.
George, 70, is married to Elizabeth, a nurse he met on campus during their student days at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. They have three grown children and seven grandchildren. The Mortons are parishioners of St. Columba’s in Hopewell Junction.
His cancer, thankfully, is in remission. “Last year, they gave me five years. It’s a very rare cancer. They only have a few cases.”
He also let me know how his wife helps him to understand “what is happening to me.” She also drives him to appointments, which is important because the powerful medication he sometimes needs makes driving impossible. “She’s my best friend,” he said.
As I asked George questions and listened to more of his story, I came away with the impression that he is a pretty good caregiver, too. Even something simple like the 14 laps he walked around the hospital floor, making one mile, are a good opportunity to forge connections if you know where to look.
“You see people who are suffering, and teams of doctors and nurses saving a life,” he said. “Then there are the staff bringing you food and cleaning the room. You think about how all those people love you.”
Always, he is abundantly thankful for his Catholic faith and the role it plays in his life.
“Thank God, I’m a Catholic, especially confession and Holy Communion,” he said. “When I talk to people, that’s what I end up talking about a lot, confession. It brings us joy when you come out of it. Holy Communion: God loves you, He loves your family, He even loves your enemy.”