Thomas ‘Tommy’ Murphy was born in Castlebar, Co Mayo on 3rd of August 1949. He was educated at St Patrick’s Primary School and St Gerard’s Secondary School in Castlebar. He joined the Columbans in September 1967 and was ordained priest in Dalgan on Easter Sunday, 14 April 1974.
Tommy’s first assignment was to Korea. After an initial year of language study he served in the parish of Huk San Do. After a further year of language study he served in Yonsandong, Pusan.
Following a vacation in Ireland in 1978, Tommy was assigned to the Taiwan Mission Unit. He was a member of the first group that arrived there in 1979. He served in a number of parishes including Ta Nan and St Michael’s Taoyuan.
He set up a day care centre for Special Needs Children. He was very much committed to the development of the laity in Church activities and mission. He also served as the Executive Secretary of the Asian Bishops Conference (FABC) office for the laity for several years.
In 1993 Tommy was appointed to the Region of Ireland as Coordinator of the Vocations team. In the Ireland of that time, this was a demanding and often unrewarding ministry but Tommy brought his usual enthusiasm and energy to it. During this time, he revived his fluency in the Irish language and in later years was active in his support of the China Formation Committee.
In 1998 he took a sabbatical and completed an MA in Celtic Spirituality at the University of Lampeter, Wales. He loved walking and hiking and pilgrimage came naturally to him. He helped initiate a Columban pilgrim walk from Knock Shrine to Croagh Patrick each year on the last Sunday in July to climb the ‘Reek’ (mountain) and say Mass in Irish at its summit.
Tommy was a delegate from the Irish Region to the General Assembly 2000 and in March 2001 he was appointed as Regional Director of the Irish Region, a role he held until September 2006 when he was elected as Superior General.
As Regional Director he initiated the use of the Columban House in Maynooth as a residence for Chinese Catholic students studying there. During his term as Superior General the Society’s Generalate was moved to Hong Kong which was seen as more central in the changing context of the Society’s mission.
In 2010 he organised a pilgrimage in the steps of St Columban from Dalgan Park to Bobbio in Italy for young Columban priests, many of whom had come through the new Columban formation programmes in Asia, South America and Oceania.
His continued support and encouragement of the emerging Society involvement in Myanmar was crucial at this time, as was the decision of the Society to seek Columban vocations in China. As time and circumstances allowed, Tommy engaged in pastoral ministry in Hong Kong, much of it with the Filipino community.
When his term as Superior General ended in 2012, Tommy did a one-year sabbatical at All Hallows in Dublin and was then appointed to the China Mission Unit in August 2013, living in Beijing. He became involved in giving spiritual direction at the National Seminary in Beijing and travelled widely giving retreats and days of recollection to priests, sisters and lay people.
He became CMU Coordinator from 2019 to 2021, moving to Hong Kong in June 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. From June to December 2022 he was assistant parish priest at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. He died at the CMU residence in Hong Kong early on 6th January 2023 with Columbans at his side.
Tommy was an affable, gregarious, kind and energetic person with a great sense of humour. His dry wit could at times be quite mischievous but never wounding. He was a committed Columban missionary and had a great interest in everybody, fully engaging with whoever he was with. He also had a deep compassion for the most vulnerable and a deep sense of respect for those to whom he ministered.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.
Funeral Mass and Interment of the Ashes of Fr Tommy Murphy: