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MORRISCY (Morricy, Morrissey), WILLIAM (although he is often referred to as William A., no second name appears in the record of his baptism), Roman Catholic priest and physician; b. 16 July 1841 in Halifax, son of Timothy Morriscy, a blacksmith and locksmith, and Eliza Kehoe, née Brennan; d. 30 March 1908 in Chatham, N.B.

      Educated in Halifax schools, William Morriscy became a clerk in a dry-goods store, and then studied with a physician for two years before deciding to become a priest. In 1860, when James Rogers of Halifax was appointed bishop of the new diocese of Chatham in New Brunswick, he brought with him four candidates for the priesthood, including Morriscy, who were to study under him and to teach at St Michael’s Academy, the forerunner of St Thomas’ University. On 29 June 1864 Morriscy became the first priest ordained by Rogers. He spent short periods at St Margarets, Caraquet, Chatham, Bathurst, and Renous before moving in 1877 to Bartibog, where he was to remain for the rest of his life.

A physician as well as a priest, Morriscy had renewed his interest in medicine while serving at Caraquet in 1864–65 under Father Joseph-Marie Paquet*, who acted as physician there. At Bartibog his congregation included many Micmac, and from them he learned the medicinal uses of herbs and other plants. His fame as a doctor, which spread throughout the province and beyond, was based on his diagnostic skills. At his death James Lemuel Stewart, the editor of the Chatham World, wrote: “There was nothing marvelous about his success as a physician. He used the same medicines as regular physicians and succeeded by the same methods. His great strength lay in his power of diagnosis. He had the eye of the born physician, and a look or gesture would often be a revelation to him in regard to the physical ailment of a patient. This was why he succeeded where many regular physicians had failed.”

Morriscy was so popular that when the province passed an act in 1881 prohibiting all but licensed physicians from practising, “Clairvoyant Physicians” were specifically exempted from its provisions. He never charged for his services and, according to Stewart, “his time, talents, and goods were at the disposal of anyone who wanted them,” rich or poor, Protestant or Catholic. In 1883 appreciative friends in Chatham and Loggieville gave him a horse, buggy, harness, robes, and sleigh, because, it was said, “he . . . gives away so much that he can’t afford to buy fine things for himself.” People travelled from many parts of Canada and the United States to receive medical advice from Morriscy. Numerous others, including doctors, wrote for his opinion on medical problems.

Morriscy was seriously ill from 1898, and in January 1908 he was taken to the Hôtel-Dieu hospital in Chatham, where he died three months later. His funeral was attended by approximately 1,500 people, including Lieutenant Governor Lemuel John Tweedie* and other dignitaries. In his will Morriscy left his recipes for various medicines to the sisters of the Hôtel-Dieu. Since they were not in a position to market them, the Father Morriscy Medicine Company was incorporated on 12 Aug. 1908 by a group of businessmen headed by Richard O’Leary*. The sisters received a fixed sum and a percentage of the profits from all sales. In 1911 the company moved to Montreal, and it ceased to exist in 1913 when it was amalgamated with another drug company.

Father Morriscy’s kindness and willingness to assist had endeared him to everyone. As the editor of the World claimed, “He was the one and only man we ever knew who undoubtedly loved his neighbor as himself.” He remains a folk hero on the Miramichi, where tales are still told of his medical skill and his generosity.

W. A. Spray

[In addition to the works cited below, the author made use of copies of the following documents in his possession: Louise Manny, “Father Morriscy” (typescript of a radio broadcast, 1950); Dr Manny’s notes on Morriscy in her notebook, “Persons and places, vol.2” (typescript, 1950); and a pamphlet issued by the Father Morriscy Medicine Company Limited, Morriscy’s home games and entertainments (Montreal, [1912?]).  w.a.s.]

St Mary’s Roman Catholic Basilica (Halifax), Reg. of baptisms, 1841–44 (mfm. at PANS). World (Chatham, N.B.), 15 Sept. 1883, 1 April 1908. J. A. Fraser, By favourable winds: a history of Chatham, New Brunswick ([Chatham], 1975), 111; Father William Morriscy (Chatham, 1976). G. J. Harrington, “Father Morriscy of Moody’s Point,” CCHA Report, 19 (1952): 29–36.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

W. A. Spray, “MORRISCY, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 18, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/morriscy_william_13E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/morriscy_william_13E.html
Author of Article: W. A. Spray
Title of Article: MORRISCY, WILLIAM
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1994
Year of revision: 1994
Access Date: September 18, 2014