Saying goodbye to my friend Fr Patrick Murphy

From my youth I developed a strong friendship with the Columban missionaries that ministered in Jeju (Korea). Fr Patrick Murphy was in Mosulpo and I became a long-time friend, writes Kang Kyung-Sue [Andrew].

One afternoon at the beginning of summer the two of us sat on a bench in the garden spending a long time discussing life and chronic diseases. Fr Murphy had spent a lot of time attempting to build up his stamina in order to be strong enough to undergo a serious operation. However, he was unable to overcome the chronic disease that he was afflicted with.

On the night of 4th September, I received news of his untimely death in St Mary’s hospital in Eunpyong, Seoul. On hearing the sad news, unable to utter a word, I stood staring at the crucifix hanging on the wall. We had just lost a great man of faith far too early. My heart was overcome with grief as I mourned our loss.

Fr Murphy was born in 1944, in the small fishing town of Dingle, Co Kerry. During his teenage years he felt the call to the priesthood and was ordained in 1967. He began his missionary life the following year in a Korea that was going through a difficult time.

Having studied Korean at the language institute in Yonsei University he served as a curate in a number of parishes. He began ministering in the parish of Sosa in the diocese of Incheon and later in Kwangju diocese in the parishes of Heuksan and Youngsanpo before becoming the parish priest of Youngwang. In 1978 he began to minister in the diocese of Jeju.

He was tremendously popular with the Catholics in every parish he served as the people loved his youthfulness and his ability to speak Korean so well. He had that rare ability to touch people’s hearts when he preached at masses or on other occasions. The people were amazed at the many talents that he possessed.

The parish of Mosolpo was his first assignment of the island of Jeju. The parish was in dire straits as it had suffered a succession of setbacks. As the NCWC or the Catholic Relief Association was no longer able to give any assistance, the parish had financial problems, the number of Catholics had decreased.  A summer typhoon in 1976 had blown down the belfry.

Kang Kyung-Sue [Andrew]
As if that was not enough a fire had damaged the wooden structured church in January 1977. The situation was so serious that the diocese was wondering if it could continue as a parish or would it be better that it be demoted to the status of an out-station.

This was the situation that Fr Murphy was faced with when he was appointed as parish priest. He immediately drew up plans to make the parish self-sufficient, to build a convent and to revive the dormant youth association. During his tenure he completed the building of the convent and had Bishop Park Chong-Il perform the blessing ceremony.

To celebrate the occasion Fr Murphy presided at a most jubilant mass. A ten-member brass harmony group he had especially invited provided the music during the mass.

To assist in the recovery of those patients suffering from Hansen’s disease, he established and managed a special farm while he was the parish priest of Youngwang parish. He showed his great ability to propel and accomplish such a project. One day the patients that worked the special farm visited Mosolpo parish.

I was deeply moved as I observed from a distance those visitors pay their respects thanking him for all he had done for them. When his father died, he could not go home for the funeral so we Catholics expressed our condolences and offered a mass for his father who had passed away.

By the time he had completed his four-year term the number of people getting baptised had increased, many lapsed Catholics had returned to the fold. The Sunday collection and church dues had increased beyond all expectations and we now had become a self-supporting parish.

I had the pleasure of escorting him to the airport in my car. When the late Fr Sean Savage, who had come to see him off, praised him for his services in a difficult place and complimented him for having faultlessly ministered there, I saw in my rear-view mirror that Fr Murphy shedding tears. I had the privilege of observing the genuine loving relationship that exists between priests and people.

When he returned from his vacation, he spent a year as the parish priest of Seomun before he was moved to New Jeju City to establish a new parish. As there was, as yet, no priest’s house he had to live in a temporary residence where he had to endure the prickly heat of the summer. He worked hard on building a church in that new parish. He returned to Seomun parish for two ordinations where he received large contributions towards the building of his new church

Ahead of the World Eucharistic Congress he worked on the renovation of the Columban Retirement Home in Yongduam in Jeju city. There was nothing that he could not turn his hand to. He was experiencing health problems when he was going to Ireland for his mother’s funeral. It was from that time on that he developed heart problems.

Fr Murphy was appointed to Korea in 1970 when, both economically and politically, the country was experiencing many problems. He devoted his whole life to serving the Lord and the Korean people.

As I look up at the blue autumn sky, I pray for this generous and faithful priest.

May he rest in peace.