Maureen Morgan is a woman for whom the word “indomitable’ might have been invented. For example, in 1972 (which she terms “a fabulous year”), aged 40 and the mother of five under-age children, she got divorced, was elected dean of the Westchester Chapter of the American Guild of Organists (AGO), built a house and became a landlord. “Women were not building houses back then. It felt like the dark ages,” she says with a smile. “And also I realized just how independent I actually was.”
Now 90 and an Ossining resident for 38 years, Morgan is as open to what life may have to offer as she was 50 years ago. Her history to date is a list of seizing opportunities that have come her way, and finding fun. “I enjoyed every stage of my life. It was never boring.”
A professional organist for multiple decades, Morgan was the first mother to graduate from the Union Theological Seminary Music Master’s Degree program, in 1963. “That was my first ‘first,’ and it set the tone of my life.”
The AGO appointment opened other doors. Writing articles for its magazine, a national publication, Morgan found herself being invited to talk at chapters across the country and so began a six-year public speaking career. Meanwhile, as an organist, she became noted for her creative liturgies, making use of her arts background to inject color and theater into religious proceedings.
Between 1975 and ’80 she worked as the music director of a Methodist church in Greenwich Village, using her creativity to help unify the many movements springing up there at the end of the Vietnam War. Then, in 1982, she was hired by St. Malachy – the actors’ chapel on 49th Street, in New York’s theater district. “They hired me because I had become known for my creative liturgies. My reputation preceded me.”
St. Malachy is a Catholic church and Morgan loved her role there. “As the music director I was required to lead a pre-Mass rehearsal, preparing the congregation (mostly tourists) for the music to come, mainly the hymns, and I would sing without accompaniment. I really enjoyed making a connection with the people who showed up. It made my role more personal.”
When the pastor changed, Morgan was let go, by now aged 63 and a little tired after 40 years of “plying my trade,” often while holding down other jobs at the same time.
“So now the second half of my life began,” she explains, recalling how the advisor in an employment office told her, “Honey, you got to go back to school.” Switching from the arts to science, she took a course in environmental management, and then joined the Federated Conservationists of Westchester County. “I was barely through the door when the president and vice-president both stepped down for health reasons, and I was made president. At the first board meeting, a group from NYC came and asked us to lead the campaign against a high-occupancy vehicle lane on Route 287. Though I knew nothing about transportation, I said, ‘Sure, we’ll do it.’ “
The four-year campaign was a success, but also a revelation to Morgan about the power of the printed word and what it can do. And the environmental and transportation work has continued. “I have a long-term project In Ossining, redesigning Route 9 in the village, narrowing it from four lanes to two.”
She is inexhaustibly positive, despite the small stroke she suffered in June 2021. “As with so many people during the pandemic, my life was swept clean and now it’s time to start again, at 90 and with a cane.”
Still keen to write, she has multiple projects in mind, including articles on energy, being a landlord, and diner culture. Don’t be surprised if you find her work in future issues of River Journal.