|Birth: ||Feb. 16, 1864|
|Death: ||Sep. 15, 1932, England|
Perhaps the most famous son of Soham was The Reverend William Case Morris who made his mark many miles away in South America. He was so horrified by the terrible poverty of the street children whilst living in Buenos Aires in the Republic of Argentina, that he dedicated the rest of his life to helping them. He went on to found a network of children's homes across Argentina saving thousands of youngsters from abject poverty and a life on the streets and became known as "Dr Barnardo of Argentina"
William Case Morris was born in Soham on the 16th February 1864, the only son of William Morris and Sarah Case. After the death of his mother in 1868, when he was just four year old, his father decided to leave Soham in search of a new life in South America. They initially emigrated to Paraguay in 1872, when he was just 8 years old, but after living there for two years decided to move to the Republic of Argentina, to the County of Santa Fe near Rosario in a rural area where William took care of sheep.
As a young man, he set about conducting a business career. In 1886 he settled in Buenos Aires and worked as a painter and decorator, where he rented a house in Admiral Brown Street. In his spare time he worked among the very lowest classes in a district renowned for its evil and squalor and began to teach the street children of the neighbourhood. Here, in a religiously apathetic atmosphere, he formed many social religious gatherings and paid a man a salary to educate them, so that in a short time he became established as a friend of the lower classes. He then made a sacrifice which must have been very great to him: he gave up all thoughts of his business career and in 1889 founded the 'Boca Mission', which continued and extended religious work among the Spanish-speaking lower classes, acting in close co-operation with the American Methodist Episcopal Church. After working in Buenos Aires for four years he had earned enough money to purchase the house he was renting in Admiral Brown Street.
In 1892 he returned to England and made a solemn vow over his mother's grave that he would dedicate his whole life to the bettering of the conditions of the poor children of South America. He never once wavered from this noble determination. After temporarily returning to England in 1895 to raise funds for a Mission Hall, he was ordained by the first Bishop of the Falkland Isles, and he subsequently founded and acted as Chaplain at the Church of St. Paul in the suburbs of Palermo.
A first-rate Spanish scholar and an unflagging worker, he translated into Spanish many religious books, which became known throughout Latin America. He originated and organised schools for the ragged and homeless, and developed them until the accommodation was 7,000; nearly a quarter of a million pupils received the impress of his teaching, his biblical exposition, his rare personality and daily example.
He sought entry into the South American Missionary Society, hoping that he would be able to continue and improve his work among the waifs and strays of Buenos Aires. The Society accepted him in 1897 and granted him permission to make an appeal for £5,000 with which to begin work. He used this money to found a new school between Guemes Street and Iriate Street in Palermo, it began with 18 pupils and soon had over 2,000 a fact illustrative of his ever-widening influence. This school was the start of what was to eventually become a large organisation known as the "Argentine Philanthropic Schools & Institutes". This great structure contained every possible branch of education for every class of people and every age of pupil. All school needs were provided, and medical examinations and career assistance were available.
In 1899 William started the San Pablo Church in Charcas Street in the Palermo District. Between 1900 - 1909 William set up three boys' schools, two girls' schools, one primary school, two mixed schools, three night schools and one vocational school and by 1913 his work was recognised as a charity by the Argentinean Government. In 1923 William and his wife Cecilia celebrated their silver wedding anniversary and opened a new music school and started a mothers' association and an alumni association.
One of his most appreciated accomplishments was the foundation of the 'Hogar el Alba' on 29th May 1925, it housed 350 homeless children and moreover educated them in such practical skills as carpentry for the boys and dress-making for the girls. Among his other institutions were one Church, one Chapel, three Christian Mission Halls and five Sunday Schools, all of which used Spanish translations of the Prayer Book. His funds came from many private subscriptions and various government subsidies, all secured by Morris' devoted efforts. It is no exaggeration to say that thousands of illiterate South Americans were thus converted to Christianity. Yet, while maintaining close contact with the poorer people, he also succeeded in greatly influencing the upper classes by means of his monthly magazine, "La Reforma".
His work was well-known in Britain, too, for in 1925 he received official recognition by being reviewed by the Prince of Wales who was on a state visit to South America. In April 1932, he fell ill through over-work. Everyone, from the humblest labourer to the President of the Republic of Argentina, enquired after his progress. On the 19th May he returned back home to England with his wife. His health improved a little during the Summer months and he was well enough to attend a reception of Missionaries given by the Archbishop of Canterbury in July of that year. He desperately wanted to return to South America where he had dedicated so much of his life, but sadly died on the 15th September 1932 on the eve of his departure. He was buried at the Fordham Road Cemetery in Soham on 17th September 1932 at the ripe old age of 68. After a full life of strenuous self-sacrifice and devotion abroad; in such high repute were his character and services held that cables of regret were sent at his death by Dr Sagarna, Judge of the Supreme Court, and the President of the Republic of Argentina, General Justo.
His funeral was honoured by the presence of amongst others; The English Chaplain of Siena and an old colleague and the Bishop of Ely - the very Reverend H. Mc. C. E. Price. According to the Argentine periodical 'La Voz', equally glowing homage was paid to the life-long nobility of his wife, Cecilia Kate Morris. Members of British, German and Jewish communities as well as those of Argentina paid tribute to her fine philanthropic, educational and spiritual work. Like St. Monica, like the Mother of John & Charles Wesley, she believed in the power and ultimate victory of the spirit." For thousands of citizens of Argentina," continues 'La Voz', "who do not know England, who have never seen its populous cities, its great commercial centres, its magnificent cathedrals, this small country town of Soham, insignificant in population, commerce or social life, is for them the most important place in that great country". Cecilia Kate Morris died at St. Luke's Hospital for the Clergy in London on 7th April 1940, at the grand old age of 76. On her death certificate her address was given as ‘Restcot', High Street, Soham, Cambridgeshire and she is interred with her husband at the Cemetery in Fordham Road, Soham, Cambridgeshire.
In 1935 all the schools he had founded were taken over by the Argentinean National Council of Education. In 1949, the Argentine Government took over the original site of 'Hogar el Alba' as a home for children at risk. 'Hogar el Alba' celebrated its 75th anniversary in the year 2000, and a fifth house was added on site for the children. Each of the five houses at 'Hogar el Alba' can accommodate twelve children with five sets of auxiliary parents independently in charge of each house. The homes currently look after about 60 children at a time of both sexes whose ages range from 5 to 20 years. The children staying in the homes receive integrated physical, academic and spiritual schooling as well as labour qualifications according to age.
The Reverend William Case Morris became known as "Dr Barnardo of Argentina"; unlike most British South Americans, he did not shut himself among a selected group of friends, but unselfishly devoted his whole life to improving the lot of those less fortunate than himself. He was a forceful yet gentle personality and a great gospel-preacher whose clear, concise phrases appealed to all audiences. Some examples of the phrases he used are as follows:-
'To labour on behalf of children is to work that pleases God'
'Love is the best gift children could receive and give back'
'Love sets in motion the widest scope of education'
'Love triumphs over failure'
'Our character is revealed in the details of our daily living'
'Virtue rests upon making efforts, not waiting for the prize'
'A nation that neglects childhood, neglects the whole country's future'
'My soul is hurt by my own wrong doings, not by others on myself'
He possessed a simple but sincere eloquence that reflected his high moral spirit. He was seldom refused when he asked for help, whether financial or otherwise, and was always received with respect and affection. He suffered a strange and modest humiliation because of his awareness of not having received a proper theological education. His noble self-sacrifice did not go unnoticed; his was perhaps the highest reward any such man could expect - the love of countless children.
He is still one of Argentina's best-loved social reformers and is highly regarded, with a statue standing in Buenos Aires as well as railway stations and football stadia named after him. Members of the Argentine community still visit his grave to this day. One of the pictures shows the 'William Case Morris' stained glass memorial window located in St. Andrew's Church, Soham. The area below the window, which depicts Jesus surrounded by children, is now used as a children's play area during services.
East Cambridgeshire District
Created by: Sergio Laurenti
Record added: Sep 14, 2008
Find A Grave Memorial# 29798081
Wiiliam C. Morris is connmemorated by the Anglican Church of Argentina on 15 December. A life of a saint of our times.|
Added: Sep. 14, 2008