Murphy, Martin, 1934-2015, Jesuit brother

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Murphy, Martin, 1934-2015, Jesuit brother

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07 August 1934-12 March 2015


Born: 07 August 1934, Ringsend, Dublin
Entered: 10 August 1966, St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
Professed: 15 August 1985, Luwisha House, Lusaka, Zambia
Died: 12 March 2015, Cherryfield Lodge, Dublin

Part of the St Francis Xavier's, Upper Gardiner Street, Dublin community at the time of death.

by 1974 at Canisius Chikuni, Zambia (ZAM) working
by 1979 at Babati, Tanzania (AOR) working for “Concern”
by 1995 at JRS Malawi (MOZ) working

Early Education at National School; Ringsend Vocational School

◆ Jesuits in Ireland :

Br Martin Murphy SJ: may he rest in peace
Death has finally got the better of Martin Murphy, but after a mighty struggle. Born in Ringsend, he learned his building skills and qualifications (a Diploma from the Catholic Workers College) before he entered the Jesuits at the age of 32. Over the next 50-odd years he practised or taught motor mechanics, building maintenance, construction, irrigation and pastoral care of refugees. Nearly thirty of those years were given to Africa, especially Zambia and Malawi.

Martin was strong as an ox, but he suffered enough sicknesses to fill a text book. His multiple health problems, touching all his senses and most parts of his sturdy body, involved treatment in four hospitals. He made full use of medical help, and carried his oxygen supply with care as he walked the pavements round Gardiner Street. He would not let medical problems absorb his energy.
At the age of 73 he embarked on a 5-year course in theology with the Tallaght Dominicans. He worked his way right up to the last assignment, on “The Just Society”, at which he balked. Why? they asked. “Because I never lived in a just society, and do not know what it is like.” Dear Martin was a strong and distinctive presence in the Irish Jesuits, a model for anyone who with God’s help has to fight sickness. “Death, be not proud.”

◆ Interfuse

Interfuse No 160 : Summer 2015


Br Martin Murphy (1934-2015)

7 August 1934: Born in Dublin.
Early Education at National School; Ringsend Vocational School
1961 - 1965: NCIR. Socio-Economics Study (Diploma)
10 August 1966: Entered Society at St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
15 August 1968: First Vows at St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
1968 - 1969: St Mary's, Emo - Mechanic; Maintenance
1969-1975: Chisekesi, Zambia - Construction; Irrigation; Teaching at Canisius College, Chikuni
1975 - 1978: Milltown Park - Maintenance
1978 - 1983: Tanzania, East Africa - Working for “Concern” at Babati, Tanzania
1983 - 1984: Tullabeg - Tertianship
1984 - 1986: Lusaka, Zambia - Minister at Luwisha House
15 August 1985: Final Vows at Luwisha House, Lusaka, Zambia
1986 - 1992: Mazabuka, Zambia - Concern Development Project
1987: Youth Development Project at St Paul's, Nakambala
1992 - 1993: Santry - Pastoral Care of Refugees
1993 - 1994: Limbe, Malawi - Working for JRS
1994 - 1995: Mozambique - Working for JRS
1995 - 1996: Clongowes - House and College Maintenance
1996 - 2015: Gardiner St - Assists Director of Arrupe Society
2009 - 2014: Hospital visitation; Studying at Priory Institute, Tallaght
2014 - 2015: Residing at Cherryfield Lodge

In October 2014, Martin was admitted to hospital after a fall. He had many health problems, which meant treatment in four hospitals. He moved to Cherryfield Lodge on 25th February 2015. He was happy to be in Cherryfield again, where he died peacefully on 12th March. May he rest in the peace of Christ.

After a mighty struggle, death finally got the better of Martin Murphy on March 12, 2015. His sisters had prayed to St Francis Xavier that the Lord would spare him further suffering, and in response he died on the final day of the Novena. His funeral was delayed because an autopsy was required, and so he was finally laid to rest on March 19, the Feast of St Joseph. Martin had had a strong devotion to Joseph the Worker, so things fitted in nicely at the end of his life.

Like Joseph, Martin was a great worker: before he joined the Jesuits, he worked for Cramptons, the builders. His grandfather had been in the same trade, and had helped to build the Titanic! This came to light only when Martin showed up in Youghal in 2012 for the launch of Eddie O'Donnell's book on Fr Browne and the Titanic! Sadly, Martin's building work, so helpful to many people, carried the seeds of his own death, because as we now know, he died of asbestos poisoning.

His early education was in the National and Vocational Schools in Ringsend, where he was born. He then began his building career, From 1961-65 he did a Diploma in Socio-Economics at the Jesuit-run NCIR. It appears that he was so impressed by the Jesuit teachers there that he decided to join them in 1966, at age 32. He waited till his mother died to do this, as he was one of her carers.

Martin was a perfectionist, took pride in his work, and always did a great job. He could turn his hand to anything, including leatherwork. He was also a great teacher of his crafts and skills. I had the good fortune to discover him early on, and we became lifelong friends, even if not without some awkward moments! In 1967 I wanted to build a back wall to the handball alley in Milltown and got his help, though he was a novice at the time. It was very definitely his wall, not mine, but he never emphasised the fact. We worked in the early mornings before my classes began, and he would then continue through the day, while I dug academic furrows. One dull morning Martin looked up with an innocent smile at the Milltown buildings and asked, 'Why is it that the scholastics mostly pray in the dark'? Later Martin built the bindery which still stands at the back of the Library. And when a Le Brocquy mosaic of the Madonna and Child came our way mysteriously in the late seventies, he put it up single handed, though it weighed three quarters of a ton. It is now in the Milltown Community foyer. He was, as one of the Brothers said admiringly, “a mighty man”.

He liked philosophy, and especially the ideas of Bernard Lonergan. He could get so animated about these that when driving in Zambia he would slow down to get his point across, which lengthened journeys considerably. At the age of 73 he embarked on a 5-year course in theology in the Priory Institute in Tallaght. He worked his way right up to the last assignment, on “The Just Society”, at which he balked. Why? they asked. “Because I never lived in a just society, and I don't know what it's like”. He enjoyed the phrase “the hermeneutic of suspicion” because it gave him the leeway he needed to be devastatingly honest.

He went to Zambia in 1969, and worked there and in Tanzania, Malawi, and Mozambique, with occasional breaks, for 25 years. He built churches and schools, dug wells and cultivated a huge garden. He practised or taught motor mechanics, building maintenance, construction, irrigation. He also engaged in pastoral care of refugees. He was well loved by those who worked with him. He delighted in planning and carrying projects through. He loved the moment when he could hand over a set of keys of a new building and say: 'The job is done’. But he had time for soccer also. I have it on reliable authority that when he was playing in Dublin for Transport FC, he was considered to be of international standard. And the Zambians used watch him admiringly: Kalango mulilo! they'd shout - “Look at his fire!”

The Acting Provincial of Zambia, Jim McGloin, said in his message of condolence: “The hidden nature of the work is often the case for the Jesuit Brother. Although Brother Martin did the actual building of the Church in Chikuni Mission in the 1970's, it was the parish priest who received the credit. The serving tables in Luwisha House are still used today, thirty years later, but no one remembers that it was Brother Martin who built them.... While the workmanship was appreciated, the worker often went unnoticed. Yet the professional workmanship of Br Martin itself stands as its own monument. And those who saw his effort and dedication were grateful.'

Martin had used his many talents 'to help others' in simple ways, as Ignatius would have wished. But by 1995, the outer job was done: he had to retire because for the remaining twenty years of his life, ill health dogged him -- glaucoma, diabetes, arthritis, lung problems. But even when exiled from Zambia he always kept in contact and retained a deep love for his 'first mission'.

The inner side
Martin had his own unique relationship with God - his secret scripture. He prayed. He loved his time in the Holy Land. He lived simply. But like the rest of us, he had his own fixed attitudes, his weaker points, his awkwardnesses. A mature man by the time he joined the Jesuits, he had, not surprisingly, something of a Trade Union perspective on things. This included a keen sense of what he perceived as injustice, foot dragging, and so on. The Jesuit way of proceeding, he felt, was not always the most efficient. With his critical mind, he found it hard to be asked to do things by people who, he felt, didn't know what they were talking about. He had little time for eloquence that was not matched by action. “They can talk the talk” he'd say “but can they walk the walk?”

Martin would tell it like he thought it was, and his craggy style disconcerted more than a few, and left people feeling uncomfortable. He was, one might say, of the warrior class. Critical of many in authority, at the same time he was a great defender of the small and the poor. He volunteered for Tanzania because it was one of the twenty poorest countries in the world. He was both admirer and critic of Julius Nyerere, founder of the state of Tanzania. But his mischievous humour carried him a long way. He would say outrageous things just to get a reaction: often he didn't want to be taken too seriously. And he could get caught out himself on occasion, as when he had an appointment with a consultant about his glaucoma: the great man was late and eventually came into the waiting room to apologise, only to find Martin reading the Irish Times. And he would smile and laugh at himself. A stern commentator on the foibles of humankind, he also had a great and welcoming smile.

Stay Clear! God at Work
God was steadily at work in him, as in us all. That work is to make us grow in love', to bring out the best in us. In the final phase of his life, a deep mellowing took place while he endured enormous discomfort, especially in his breathing. He carried his oxygen supply as he walked the pavements round Gardiner Street. He did not complain. His time and energy were taken up with coping with his own illnesses. He made the rounds of many hospitals and consultants, and his reports of medical encounters were never dull. To one man who wasn't measuring up, Martin said: “Take a good look at my face!” “Why?” said the consultant. “Because”, said Martin, “you won't see it again!” His humour never deserted him, and he would get great joy out of recounting such incidents. He told me how grateful he was to his family for all their care and love; and to the Cherryfield staff for looking after him so well. In turn, they enjoyed his company; he had a word - often funny - to say about everything. They loved him. And he became a grateful man.

So when the moment of death came, and Martin met the Lord face to face, the “inner job” was substantially done. Like Peter in the Gospel, he jumped out of the safety of his life's boat and struggled to the shore where Jesus was waiting, watching. Surely like Peter, Martin heard Jesus say, “Bring the fish you've caught, and come, let's have breakfast!”

Then, we may surmise, came the one-to-one chat with Jesus, who now could safely ask him: Martin, do you love me more than these others do? There would have been no digging-up of the failures of the past. No comparisons and contrasts with others. The present state of his heart was all that mattered. He would have answered like Peter: Lord, “You know everything, you know I love you”. That would be enough. Because in the evening of life we will be examined in love.

It so happened that when the news came to me that Martin had died, I was reading a book titled Love is Stronger than Death, by Cynthia Bourgeault. It tells of a Trappist monk in Colorado who had a turbulent personality and was awkward in his relationships. Community life fell short for him, and so he moved out and became a hermit. He wrestled much of his life with God and others. But at the end he became liberated and happy. I felt this man's life and Martin's had parallels! In our final conversation a week before he died, he had told me he had been struggling, not with the problem that others were not measuring up, but that he wasn't measuring up. He found it consoling to hear Pope Francis' remark from The Joy of the Gospel, “When everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved”. Perhaps, then, he felt, all would be well at the end, because God's love is stronger than our failings or our death.

And so, off he went, happily, into eternal glory. He is now fully alive, radiant with his best self, supporting us on our pilgrim way, looking forward to the great reunion when all will be made well.

Brian Grogan


G&T Crampton, Clonskeagh, Dublin

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Irish Vice-Province of the Society of Jesus, 1830- (1830-)

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Irish Vice-Province of the Society of Jesus, 1830-


Murphy, Martin, 1934-2015, Jesuit brother

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Zambian Vice-Province of the Society of Jesus, 1969- (1969-)

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Zambian Vice-Province of the Society of Jesus, 1969-


Murphy, Martin, 1934-2015, Jesuit brother

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