It is with the deepest regret that we must record here the death of Fr John Gerard Murphy, curate at St Teresa’s, Dundee, in the diocese of Dunkeld, which took place in Maryfield Hospital, Dundee, on Wednesday, the 16th May, 1973, in the thirty-second year of his age and the eighth of his priesthood.
Fr Murphy was born in Dundee on the 31st January, 1942, the feast of St John Bosco. Son of F. J. Murphy, late headmaster of the old St Andrew’s Primary School, Long Wynd, and Mrs Rose M. Murphy, now headmistress of St Vincent’s Infants’ School, he came from a long line of people who had devoted their lives to Catholic Education in Scotland.
Baptised in St Joseph’s, Dundee, by his priest uncle, Fr John Cleary, he received his ear]y education in St Joseph’s Primary School. From an early age he showed a desire for the priesthood and entered St. Mary’s College, Blairs, when he was eleven to pursue his studies. From there he passed to the Royal Scots College, Vallado1id, in 1959, and on the completion there of the usual six years course of studies he was raised to the priesthood in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Dundee, on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, 29th June, 1965, by His Lordship Bishop William A. Hart. He was appointed assistant priest to Mgr Stuart, V.G., at St. Leonard’s, Dundee, and his successor, Fr John J. Connelly. It was at St Leonard’s that he spent the greatest part of his priestly life until transferred to St Teresa’s in September – 1972, where he remained until his death.
The keynote of John Murphy’s character was his simplicity and integrity. Though adult and experienced by all the varying circumstances of the priestly life, he nevertheless retained throughout his years a childlike innocence. There was no guile nor deceit in him. The complexity of motive and outlook or calculation, which form, unfortunately, so much part of most of us, found little part in his mental make-up and it was this God-given quality that endeared him to all that came into contact with him. Those who knew him will long remember his humility and self-effacement, his gentleness and piety, but above all his ardent desire to take his place always as an active priest and do his work for the salvation of souls.
It was his priestliness and sense of the priesthood, with all its responsibilities, that inspired him throughout his too short life.
He had made his choice as a young boy of eleven to devote himself to the things of God and the good of souls, and nothing or no-one was
ever really given precedence over these principles. In this was the secret of his success with people. The young, not very surprisingly, had a very large place in his interest and affection. From a long line
of Catholic educationalists he wished to give the young of the schools committed to his care, St Margaret’s, St Columba’s, St John’s, Lawside Academy and finally St Michael’s – the same solid basis of Catholic learning and piety that had been his from his family home and training. Nothing was too much trouble to him for the children, whether it was the preparation of catechetical lessons, projects, or his class Masses; and this evident care for his young charges will have made a lasting impression. As one tearful pupil put it on the day of his school Requiem Mass, “He would always listen to you “a very commendable trait to the young!
At the same time he was a man’s man. Never happier than when climbing in his leisure hours and holidays the mountain peaks of his native Scotland where he used to say, “Man can find God,” he had a wide interest in the things of the male adult world. Photography, sport, car-maintenance, music and painting each exercised a formative and absorbing part in his free time. But perhaps the hobby dearest to him was his model railway and interest in all things concerning steam trains. This had a real fascination for him; begun in childhood, it remained with him right to the last week of his life when he passed his solitary hours in planning and preparing a new and bigger model of his trains for his room.
For two years Fr Murphy had suffered from a blood complaint which at times caused him great pain. This long illness was patiently borne, his distress often being so concealed from even his closest friends that fow were aware of the true situation. During this time he was desperately anxious Jest he be thought of as an invalid and pushed himself to the limits of his energy and was finally compelled to enter hospital to seek relief from his complaint.
Even there his only complaint to his parish priest was his regret at not being able to take his share in the parish life. A measure of his keen sense of priestly duty can be seen in his rising from bed to take part in the Holy Thursday and Good Friday services in his parish church-only a few days before his final illness. The severe course of treatment that he had been undergoing from December, 1972 had the unfortunate side effect of lowering his resistance to infection. This was a calculated risk taken in the hope that he would eventually be restored to his previous good health; but it was not to be.
Stricken with pneumonia, he entered Maryfield Hospital for the last time on Saturday, 12th May. Hopes were high for yet another recovery, but as the days went on he became more and more tired. On Wednesday, 16th May, 1973, John Gerard Murphy, with characteristic composure and dignity, gave his truly priestly soul back to its Maker.
“How rich are the depths of God-how deep His wisdom and knowledge, and how impossible to penetrate His motives or understand His methods.” How appropriate these words of St. Paul come to mind! At a young age, in the fullness of vigour, the Lord has taken him from a loving family and a diocese already in sore need of priests of his like, but perhaps those who so deeply mourn his passing may find a final message and consolation in what he wrote in
his spiritual notes at the beginning of his priestly life: “As priests we are God’s representatives here on earth. We are the fathers of the children and so we should take special care to be kind and reliable. We should be ‘professional kind men.’ We should not rule with a military authority or as though we were schoolmasters; neither as Victorian fathers, but as Jesus Christ-kind, gentle, patient and meek. We are celibate, we have given up the right to have a particular family in order that we may elevate our love and extend it to a whole parish and be a nrue father to the people.”
Knowing that John Murphy more than practised what he wrote, can we really mourn his passing? Can we really grudge his going to God whom he loved and served so well for the whole of his life? Are we not sorry for our loss in his death rather than thinking of the eternal reward that is no\V his for his fidelity when in life? He also wrote, ” God is a mystery. His ways are inexplicable and so faith must play a great part in our lives. It will be the driving force even when the commands seem absurd.”
God’s command to Fr Murphy to leave this world may seem to many left behind, absurd. With him let them say, “Thy will be clone.” With his going all have lost a something very personal; a loving and. devoted son, a dedicated and loyal priest, an ideal assistant, a firm, lovable friend, full of affection and human warmth, but all have gained yet one more powerful advocate in Heaven. “Consummatus in brevi, explevit tempora multa” (Wisdom 4, 13). (Coming to perfection in so short a while, he achieved long life.)
Father Murphy was received into Dundee’s Cathedral, St. Andrew’s, on Thursday evening by the Right Rev. H. Stuart, V.G., his first parish priest, in the absence of Bishop Hart, engaged at that time in Brussels on important Church affairs with the European Common Market bishops. Before a crowded congregation, Requiem Mass was celebrated by Fr John B. Hanlon, parish priest of St Teresa’s, Dundee, the last scene of Fr Murphy’s labours in the diocese of Dunkeld, who conveyed to the sorrowing family the deep and heartfelt sympathy of all sections of the community in their, and the priests of the diocese, loss.
The next day Solemn Requiem Mass was concelebrated, the principal celebrant being Fr Cleary who had baptised him thirty one years ago. An eloquent testimony of Fr Murphy’s popularity and how people appreciated him was shown by the fact that not all who came to the Cathedral to pay their last respects could find a place and had to remain in the porch and even outside on the streets. The Provost and Chapter of the Dunkeld Diocese and over seventy priests attended;many of them being his former friends at Blairs and Valladolid. The overflowing congregation represented all aspects of life in the city of Dundee.
In the congregation were Father Murphy’s mother, Mrs. Rose M. Murphy, headmistress of St. Vincent’s Infants’ School, his sister Dr. Rosemary Pye and brother-in-law, Dr Ian Pye from England. The principal celebrant of the Mass was Fr John Cleary of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, Leamington Spa, who had baptised Father Murphy thirty-one years ago in St Joseph’s. With him were joined Mgr. Stuart, V.G., Fr Connelly, Fr Hanlon, Fr Adamson, Fr Ward, and Fr McDermott.
The Very Rev. Provost John B. Malloy, parish priest of St Joseph’s, the scene of Fr Murphy’s early life, spoke on behalf of the bishop and clergy of the diocese. For him the crowded cathedral of that morning and the evening previous showed the esteem in which Fr Murphy was held by all.
Referring to the readings of the Requiem Mass, the Provost reminded the prayerful assembly that it was not the years that made a man’s life but what a man did with them. All are in the world to love and serve God. This is our duty and our privilege, and during his short priestly years Fr Murphy had more than proved to all his absorbing love for his Saviour.
Though saddened by his death, his life and example would be an inspiration for many years to come. As priest in St Leonard’s and St Teresa’s, he had spent himself for the good of souls. The sick, the elderly and, a.hove all, the children, all had had a place in his affection and interest. His Mass and sermons, prepared with a thoroughness beyond his years, had been for the sanctification of those placed under his charge. These souls would surely remember him now before the throne of God whom he had served so well on earth.
Fr Murphy was borne from the cathedral by his contemporary friends in the diocese. The Nethergate was crowded with people lining both sides of the street giving a last proud farewell to a loved and respected priest and friend. Fr Cleary officiated at Balgay Cemetery where Fr Murphy was laid to rest beside his beloved father. May his fine priestly soul rest in his Lord.