Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Those special priests, I
Monsignor Michael Murphy, (unofficial) associate, Guardian Angels, Copley OH, mid to late 1960's

Back then, I was a precocious elementary-school student. Guardian Angels Parish was brand-new, carved out of rural farmland just starting to sprout subdivisions, that previously had been studiously neglected by the in-the-city parish it supposedly had belonged to. Father O'Neill had been sent to build a church, round up the Catholics, and turn this spot on the map into a parish, a community of faith. And he did. When I was a little kid, I thought Guardian Angels was the prettiest church, with its wooden roof rafters and woven wood screens behind the statues of Mary and Joseph, and the big room underneath with the movable walls so eight grades of religious ed could go on at the same time. (It takes very little to impress a pious six-year-old......)

But there really was too much work for one priest alone. Copley Township had been neglected for a very long time; besides the multitudinous children, there were plenty of grownups who had very little knowledge of their faith, many who had even missed getting confirmed, who were coming to the new little church. ( I was in Guardian Angel's first Confirmation class, as a fifth grader, and there seemed to be nearly as many grownups as kids.) Fr. O'Neill needed help. So his good buddy came to lend a hand. Monsignor Murphy wanted to work in a parish bad enough to taste it, but thanks to his special talents that wasn't going to be; his Monday-Friday job was as the rector of the seminary in Cleveland. But come Saturday morning, he was in Copley, at his best friend's parish, for two days of associate-pastoring.

He was dignified, but not somber. He said the Latin at Mass loud enough and slow enough that you could really follow along in the Missal, and when the Mass changed to English, he enunciated all the words and could be heard all the way to the rear even before there were microphones installed. He was an excellent confessor from the grade-schooler perspective, wise and gentle, and he never yelled at us. And, he never ever brushed off any of us nuisancy kids. I had questions and problems that I thought were huge, and they were huge in my little-kid world, and he spoke with me about them as seriously as if I were already a grownup. He even helped out when Jenny (one of my friends) and I discovered a wonderfully complex book and got entirely confused in it --- a volume of the Summa that Jenny borrowed from the library of her grandpa the Protestant minister. Sixth-graders, even precocious ones, shouldn't be playing with St. Thomas Aquinas!

I moved into the city, out of Guardian Angels, Copley, after sixth grade. A few years later, Monsignor Murphy couldn't play associate pastor any more because he'd been made a bishop. But I still remember him with fondness.

The novena for priests continues. Scroll down to the illustrated post for the novena prayers.
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