Elizabeth Edwards ‘20, Staff Writer

Source: Andy Oster

It was a hot morning in Rwanda. Jess Morrell gripped the bars of the Land Rover, standing so she could see everything around her, careless of the red African dirt clinging to her face and hair. The guide for the lead vehicle got out to point out the closest lion. “Get in the car! You’re about to be lunch!” she said, as the lion looked towards the guide.

            Six hours later, exhausted but happy, she was elated from seeing lions, hippos, elephants and giraffes, oh my! On a trip to Rwanda with the Catholic Relief Services, this is just one of many adventures Morrell has taken on over the years.

            Some people wake up, go to work, get home, and then park in front of the television for the rest of the day. But not Morrell. Pittsburgh born, but raised in Georgia, she is best known as the Associate Director of Campus Ministry at Immaculata University. She fills her days with ministry work, volunteering, firefighting and traveling. When she is not putting her energy towards helping others, Morrell can often be found working on self-improvement and personal growth.

            Originally graduating with two B.A.s from St. Vincent College – one in history and one in theology – Morrell never quite quenched her thirst for knowledge. She went on to accomplish an M.A. in theology with a focus on pastoral ministry, as well as a master’s certificate in conflict resolution and peace studies, both from Duquesne University. These days, she is dutifully chipping away at a B.S. in emergency planning and management from Immaculata. The fact that she is nearly through four different college degrees is enough to make her blush.

            “I think it’s so important to just be a lifelong learner, and to always be learning. We should always be bettering ourselves,” she said.

            That philosophy might be part of why she is such an integral part of the campus community. In her 13th year of serving Immaculata, Morrell oversees much of the volunteer activity coordinated by Campus Ministry, with plenty of help from a graduate assistant or two. She also heads up the service trips, including a trip to New Orleans, LA during winter break to help with the ongoing aftermath from Hurricane Katrina. Additionally, she accompanies student volunteers to Raleigh, NC with Habitat for Humanity during spring break, where they help build houses for those in need.

            Beyond community service activities, Morrell focuses on social justice. She is an active member of the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) – both as an advisor on campus and a representative for Immaculata to the CRS. Additionally, she leads a trip to Washington, D.C. every other year, so that Immaculata students can meet with Congress and the Senate and bring their social justice concerns to light. Most of her day involves helping others. But when asked about the most rewarding part of her job, Morrell’s answer was surprising.

            “It’s not immediate and it’s not in the moment, but… for me, it’s once the students graduate and that year or two later, when I see them thriving in the world and being so productive, loving, Christian, functioning people. I think that’s awesome.”

            Morrell gives of herself to society beyond the activities that serve the Immaculata community. She is a volunteer firefighter in both Chester and Montgomery Counties, and works with the Diving Recovery Water Rescue Unit out of Phoenixville. While she volunteers in a variety of capacities, her work with the fire departments and the water rescue unit are her favorite ways to give back to her community. But her passion isn’t playing the hero. She cares most about prevention and education.  

            “I like doing the community relations work and spending time educating children on fire prevention and fire safety… No, it’s not putting out the fire and no, it’s not cutting people from cars – all of which is important. I am happy and honored that I can do that work. But I’d rather prevent it. I want to prevent all bad things!”

            When she is not serving Immaculata or volunteering for her community, Morrell likes to spend her time playing football and softball, being “Aunt Jess” to her friends’ children, and lending a hand at her sister’s community theater. But, more than anything, Morrell loves the chance to travel.

            Of the many accomplishments she can claim as hers, the one she is most proud of is tackling the Camino Santiago de Compas De La. It’s a religious pilgrimage that starts in France and follows the northern line of Spain to reach the burial place of St. James the Apostle. Morrell and her sister hiked the last 115 kilometers of the trek.

            “It’s probably one of the more fulfilling things I’ve done in my life, because it’s been a dream since I was a kid… I would call it a dream come true.”

            Her many achievements – including running four half marathons – do not keep Morrell from focusing on future goals. She is driven, in a word. While currently working towards her fourth college degree, she is also taking an Emergency Medical Responder class with the hope of shifting towards becoming an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).

            “I don’t know really if I have any other goals, besides just keeping getting better every day at whatever I’m doing.”

            Words to live by, spoken by someone living a fuller life than most. Morrell sets an exceptional example of how to embrace life and all its challenges. From putting out fires – sometimes literally – to guiding Immaculata students towards service and charity, she puts her whole heart into everything she does.