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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Clerical Conflict/Consequences: Father Murphy

“Hey, Sojourner, don’t turn around, but I think Father Murphy and Sister Mary Pat are sitting on the last pew. There’s someone else with them, but I don’t recognize her.” The surprise of Curt’s whispered announcement was stronger than his admonition… I turned around immediately.

Sure enough; Father Murphy and Sister Mary Pat were right there on the last pew, right side of the church. Not just any church, mind you, but the very place where I had received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. They hadn’t seen me because they were in a kind of loose huddle of their own, sorting out the printed material being passed down the pew. Turning around I whispered back in Curt’s ear. “You don’t know the other nun; she’s Sister Mary Catherine from the elementary school. I can’t believe they came. Isn’t this exciting?”

“Well, that’s Step One of the prayers answered. Let’s see what happens?”

Curt was right. Lots of us had prayed that Father Murphy would come to hear the meetings going on at the church over the weekend. An Episcopal priest and a Roman Catholic priest were the speakers for the conference. Both of them had been filled with the Holy Spirit and were teaming up to share with others their experiences and the Bible truths concerning the Holy Spirit. Just the Protestant and Catholic priests being together on the program made a more powerful statement of the unity the Holy Spirit brings than any spoken words ever could. Even off the platform, they really seemed to enjoy one another’s bantering. The two priests had not known one another before the in-filling of the Holy Spirit, but the men were favorites on the ecumenical speaking circuit all over America, sometimes appearing at the same conference. We were totally amazed that they came to our little church with the rustic, wooden sanctuary.

Once the teaching began, I was absorbed in the material and actually forgot that Father Murphy was there. There was just so much to learn. The priests had unique speaking styles, keeping us on the edge of our seats much of the time. It was, definitely, not boring!

The second night, Father Murphy and Sister Mary Pat were back in the same pew. Well, that is until the altar call. Then, to my extreme joy, glancing to the aisle on my right, I saw the back of Father Murphy. He was on his way to the altar to receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit! My own priest! I couldn’t believe it; I was finding it hard to sit quietly as I prayed for him and the others now kneeling in the front of the church.

Father Murphy’s radiant smile on his way back to the pew shouted the outcome clearly; he had received the Holy Spirit in a way he’d never known possible. I could hardly wait to see him at his parish office the next week. As soon as Father Murphy found his seat, Sister Mary Pat leaned in to speak to him. The next thing I saw was her back on the way to kneel with the group at the front. She, too, returned to the pew with a brand-new glow. In fact, I’m pretty sure I even heard a little giggle coming out of her mouth as she passed me. I just wanted to grab on to her hand and say, “Yes, I know! Isn’t it wonderful?” I didn’t, of course, but planned to see her at the church next week, too. I so wanted to hear their stories and to share mine with them. I wasn’t sure if any of the other Catholics who had experienced this marvelous happening had shared with them but I intended to do just that.

Sunday morning Father Murphy and Sister Mary Pat were serving in their own church, of course; and, while I had heard they were in the afternoon and evening meetings, I had to work that shift at the hospital so didn’t see them myself. The following week was so busy with my classes, lab hours and hospital shifts that it wasn’t until Friday night I had a moment to ask someone about Father Murphy. A Catholic friend who also attended the Guitar Mass, and who had been baptized with the Holy Spirit on the same day as I had, told me that she was pretty sure some of the other kids had shared with him of their own experiences. In fact, she believed that it was their excitement that made Father Murphy and Sister Mary Pat respond to the invitation to go to the meetings when the Catholic priest was one of the speakers. Well, whatever the reason, I was thrilled and decided to head over to the church Saturday morning to make an appointment to see Father Murphy the next week. Someone was usually there in the morning for a couple of hours; I hoped to get there at the right time.

“Father Murphy? Can some other priest help you?” The secretary was smiling but no joy found her eyes.

“No, it’s okay. I can stop by on Monday; I know you must be busy to be here on a Saturday. I had figured I’d find a student at your desk, answering the phones today. I had only planned to leave a message that I wanted to talk with Father Murphy next week. Really, no problem. I’ll just come back on Monday.” Now, her standard office smile was gone, replaced with a thin line. Her eyes filled with tears.

“There’s no point in coming, if you will only accept an appointment with Father Murphy. That’s really the reason I’m in the office this morning. The bishop asked me to come, because there is paperwork that needs to be done right away. You see, they’ve transferred Father Murphy out of this Parish.” There just had to be some mistake.

“But, everyone loves Father Murphy. The sanctuary is always full every weekend. Some students even go to early morning Mass on weekdays, kids who had never gone before coming to university. How can they do that to us? Why ever would they transfer him? Is he somewhere else in this city? Is there someone we can plead with on his behalf?” The crusader in me began to rise; my sadness turned to take action mode.

“No, there isn’t anyone. It’s already done. Father Murphy will say Mass at his new church tomorrow. It isn’t even in this area, let alone this city. It’s done; we just have to accept that he’s gone.”

Well, I didn’t just accept it but, indeed, there was not a thing a lowly student, or group of lowly students, could do about it. Father Murphy had been transferred to a small rural parish. The congregation was made up of a total of three elderly parishioners, with not a university student in sight. He’d been banished to the Siberia set apart for young priests who might interfere with the proper care of young minds. I prayed for Father Murphy and Sister Mary Pat for a long time, and still do as the Holy Spirit brings them to mind. I never discovered where Sister Mary Pat had been sent. I never saw the two again, but I will never forget the joy that radiated each countenance on one most-joyous evening in the little church.

The Bible says that God has everything under His watchful eye and I do accept that God could have intervened, had He chosen to do so. Perhaps, Father Murphy would tell us that his time in the rural parish served to allow him the time needed to learn more about God. Perhaps, God had moved him to another parish later when Father Murphy had learned what God had planned for him to learn? I haven’t a clue but I do trust that God never let Father Murphy or Sister Mary Pat out of His loving care.

*All clerical names have been changed.

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