Patrick Raymond Murphy was born on 21 June, 1929. He studied at the English College, Lisbon and was ordained there on 8 June, 1963. Throughout the sixties and the early seventies he was a curate in a number of parishes including Grimsby, Hackenthorpe, Ilkeston and Oakham. In 1976 he was appointed Parish Priest at St Hugh of Lincoln, Newbold in Chesterfield. He moved to become Parish Priest at St Paul’s, Cantley in 1983, from where he retired in 2004.
He died on 25 June, 2015 and his funeral Mass was celebrated on Monday, 13 July where Fr Bernard O’Brien, a longstanding friend of Fr Pat’s from their days in the seminary, gave the homily.
Thank you all so much for being here. It is wonderful that we should fill this church for our celebration. Fr Pat asked for a joyful celebration, and we have already begun it.
Fr Pat died at 10.30 on June 25th. Judi was with him, at his side as she had been for the whole month of his stay in the Doncaster Royal Infirmary. When I arrived, there was no more to be done but say that beautiful prayer of commendation. “Go forth, Christian soul, from this world, in the name of God the Father, who created you; in the name of Jesus Christ who suffered for you; in the name of the Holy Spirit who was poured out upon you, go forth, faithful Christian. May you live in peace this day. May your home be with God.” I always find that such a touching and comforting prayer. A faithful life on this earth over, and a new one beginning. Fr Pat looked as though he had fallen asleep. He was eighty six, and fifty two years a priest.
I first met Pat travelling out to Lisbon, to begin a six year course of studies for the priesthood in the English College. We sailed out of Liverpool on the S.S. Hildebrand, bound ultimately for the West Indies, with a mixture of cargo and passengers, including in special cages on deck, a pig and a horse. They got off at Porto, in Northern Portugal, and we went on to Lisbon. Except that we never reached there. Coming round the headland into the Tagus estuary, we hit a bank of fog, and steered straight onto the rocks. Shipwrecked, and saved by a small flotilla of fishing boats. We lost everything except the clothes we stood up in.
In college, I sat next to Pat in the dining room, the class room and the chapel, for six years. We learned a lot about each other. He was what we called then ‘a late vocation’, and had been in the army (and even boxed for the army), and seemed to have had a large number of nights out on the town. He found the studies difficult, mostly because all the text books were in Latin, which he never mastered. That’s when I discovered one of his great characteristics – tenacity. He never, ever gave up trying, whether it was with studies or on the football pitch. We both got through, thank God, and in 1963 prostrated before the altar in the College chapel, and were ordained priest.
Little did we realise what lay ahead. If any of you read the Catholic weekly, The Tablet, you may have come across a review of a recent book, which said, “A priest is a contradictory thing. Set apart, but radically available; the servant of his parishioners, and the subordinate of his Bishop; he upholds the teaching of the Church, whilst caring for the people whose lives are often at variance with the proclaimed ideal. He is at once familiar, and alien; a pillar of the local community, a part of the global Church, yet the bearer of a subversive message. A public man, he carries within himself a world of private feeling and experience to which those outside the priesthood are rarely party.” Those words express, I think, the tensions of priesthood that Pat, and many of that generation, faced. Trained pre-Vatican Council, we were to face the changes and turmoil of the new way of being Church, when the windows were opened, and the winds of the Spirit blew.
A priest is a contradictory thing. Set apart, yet radically available. Pat believed in his priesthood, believed he was called to be ‘alter Christus’, another Christ. Anointed, like Isaiah, to be and bring Good News. He knew too, that it could only be done through being deeply united with Christ, in love and service. As St Paul said, in our second reading, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God, made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.” If that is there, “We shall triumph over our trials by the power of him who loved us”. As a priest, Pat tried principally to follow the path of Christ in his love of the poor and marginalised. In his twenty one years as Parish Priest here, he left that example. He had a wonderful gift with people, remembering names and dates of birth; a joyfulness; he did his hospital visits, often bringing in the day’s newspapers; he loved the ‘kidiwinks’, as he called them. He knew how to be playful with them, and they loved him; he accepted all sorts of people with their complicated situations. He loved it when the Neighbourhood Centre opened, and was so proud of you all for doing it.
Lest you think I am canonising Fr Pat, I am not! He could bark, too. And I am fairly sure he must have meditated on that incident in the Gospel, when they said to Jesus, “Master, we know you are a man who speaks the truth, and that a man’s rank means nothing to you”. Well, Pat never minded what rank anyone had, from the Vatican downwards. There was certainly one Bishop who was very glad when Pat became part of Hallam Diocese, and left his! At meetings he would chunter, ‘who does the Dean think he is?’ or even higher, ‘the Bishop is the Bishop, but he is not right on every occasion!’ He often used to pronounce ‘I am Pope in my own parish.’ He was truly a company man with attitude!
Going back to his dying, and those prayers for a departing soul, I often think that that’s the moment Jesus comes back for us, as he promised he would. “When I have prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with me, so that where I am, you shall be too.” I also believe that when a priest dies, it’s very like his final Mass. For years at the altar, Fr Pat joined himself to Jesus, and said, “This is my body, this is my blood, given up for you”. A priest tries to conform himself to Christ, and when he dies, he dies like Christ, having offered his life to the Father over the years. Now is the last, the final moment of his giving. “It is accomplished”. It is the end. The task entrusted to him by God is completed. His death is the moment of his greatest triumph.
At College, it was the custom to stay on after your ordination to say Mass for all your fellow students and staff. And at the end of Mass everyone would sing the Te Deum for you, that great hymn of the Church of praise and thanksgiving and triumph. For us it was an emotional moment of farewell, before returning to England. There’s an English translation of that hymn which we are going to sing (and I want you to sing it with gusto) as we carry Fr Pat’s body from our church, and see him on his way to his new land, his new risen life; to a great meeting with all his departed family and friends in the Communion of Saints; where one day we shall all be, in happiness with the Lord. Amen