Remembering John Morrissey Jr. '58 (1936-2022)


St. Ambrose President Emeritus Ed Rogalski, PhD, leans on phrases like "gentle spirit," "talented craftsman," "richly humorous," and "remarkably kind" to describe the 40-year legacy John Morrissey Jr. '58 literally built at St. Ambrose University.

"John was one of the nicest, kindest, gentlest persons you'd ever want to be associated with St. Ambrose," Rogalski said of the longtime Physical Plant director who died June 12 in Bettendorf at age 86. "When you talk about being an Ambrosian and what that means, John embodied it."

As evidence, Rogalski cited Morrissey's deep sense of pride in his work, right down to building campus sidewalks, many of which still bear the personal John Morrissey Jr. stamp. Then, he remembered the time Morrissey very carefully was smoothing the last stretch of one freshly laid sidewalk when a distracted student tromped across it.

"John looks up – and I'm waiting for him to explode – but he just shakes his head and goes back to smoothing out the sidewalk," the former president said.

Jim Hannon '84 was hired by Morrissey following his SAU graduation and succeeded him as Physical Plant Director upon the mentor's retirement in 2002. Among the many, many things Hannon learned in the interim was the utterly Ambrosian motivation behind Morrissey's innate patience and kindness.

Hannon watched once as his boss, confronted by an employee who was angry about an unfulfilled maintenance request, quietly defused the situation and sent the complainant away happy. Hannon asked how and why Morrissey was unphased by the anger.

"He said, 'You never know what's going on in somebody's personal life," Hannon remembered. "I found out later that person was dealing with cancer."

Morrissey joined then director, his father John Sr., as a Physical Plant staff member in 1959 and became director himself following his father's 1985 retirement. Morrissey Jr. remained on the job for another 17 years.

John Morrissey junior, submitted

John Morrissey Jr.


John Morrissey Jr. was proud of his work as Director of the SAU Physical Plant, a job he held for 40 years until his retirement in 2002.

To say the Morrisseys are an Ambrosian family would be an understatement. His wife Helen was a member of the Mercy Nursies SAU graduating class of 1958. Children John '82 and Margaret Burdick '83 earned St. Ambrose degrees, as did a brother, the late Msgr. Michael '61. Brother Patrick also worked for St. Ambrose.

Jim Stangle '82, Executive Director of Campaigns and Leadership Giving, was part of a student trip to the Bahamas on which John and Helen served as chaperones. Helen's nursing experience proved helpful when the fair-skinned Stangle spent too much time in the Nassau sun.

"They were like parents," Stangle said. "John wanted us all to have fun – within reason."

Early on, Morrissey's patience and resourcefulness served St. Ambrose well, Rogalski said. "We had a lot of deferred maintenance projects and John's department had to make do with limited resources," he said, noting faculty and staff with needs still made demands. "He was so astute, he kept people happy doing the small things he could do at his own discretion."

The carpentry skills of both Johns, Sr. and Jr., were legendary. "They were artists," Hannon said, adding of John Jr., "He was a mechanical genius, too. There was nothing he didn't know about."

Starting with the construction of the townhouse apartments in the early 1990s, John Morrissey Jr. was on the ground floor of the campus' rapid growth. He oversaw the beginnings of Residence Row, as Tiedemann and Hagen Halls were built on his watch.

"He took great pride in the work he did and was always someone who would be a part of whatever work needed to be done," Rogalski said.

Before and after their retirement, Hannon said, the Morrisseys also were active in campus events. "He and Helen both stood up for St. Ambrose," Hannon said. "They were good ambassadors."

When he retired, the University honored John through the naming of the John Morrissey Gallery in the Galvin Fine Arts Center. In 2014, John and Helen Morrissey were honored with the McMullen Award for their commitment to SAU students and their financial support for capital campaigns, annual fund drives, and student scholarships.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10 a.m., Friday, June 17, at Holy Family Catholic Church, 1923 Fillmore Street, Davenport. A visitation will be held from 4 to 6 p.m., Thursday, June 16, at Halligan McCabe DeVries Funeral Home, 614 N. Main Street, Davenport.

An additional visitation will be held from 9 to 10 a.m., at Holy Family Catholic Church before the Mass.

Remembrances and condolences may be expressed online.

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