“The footsteps of those men who called us to walk in their company left deep prints, as of men carrying heavy burdens. But they did not trudge; they strode. For they had the hope.” Those words of the Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross speak to the great hope and inspiration we find in those men who have blazed the trail of religious life and priesthood in Holy Cross. In this monthly series, Fr. Jim Connelly, the Superior of Holy Cross House, the community’s medical and retirement facility, will share with us some of the life stories of some of those heroic, faith-filled men, living and deceased. Today, we learn about Fr. Michael Murphy, C.S.C., who passed away this July.
To a man who asked him why his biblically based view of the age of the earth did not correspond to the findings of modern science, William Jennings Bryan responded, “I am concerned with the Rock of Ages, not the age of rocks.” Although devoted to the Rock of Ages, Fr. Michael Murphy, C.S.C., was fascinated by the age of rocks.
Born in Butte, Montana, a mining town, Mike’s father sent him to live with a maternal aunt in Portland, Oregon, when his mother died. Mike met the Congregation of Holy Cross when he went to high school at Columbia Prep in Portland and in his senior year he transferred to Holy Cross Seminary at Notre Dame. Ordained in 1949, his interest in geology led him to graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, and Columbia University. He returned to the University of Notre Dame to teach and to chair for 18 years the Earth Science Department.
Fr. Mike noticed more than the age of rocks. Recognizing that few minority students entered the field of geology, he organized summer programs that aimed to attract African American, Asian and Hispanic high school students to major in geology in college. The students took courses in geology for two months during the summer and the better students were invited to participate in a two-week field trip in Montana with trips to Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons and Glacier National Parks as well as the copper mines in Mike’s native Butte. He got money to pay for these programs from oil companies. Later he received funding from the National Science Foundation to run summer institutes for high school teachers. After four summers of course work at Notre Dame and a summer field course at Montana State University in Bozeman, the teachers received a master’s degree in geology from Notre Dame.
In addition to his teaching duties, Fr. Mike ministered in the residence halls at Notre Dame for fourteen years in addition to his other duties. During that time he served as rector or assistant rector of six different halls. When he retired from teaching in 1989, Fr. Mike took up parish work in California, Arizona and, finally, at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame.
Priest, teacher, rector, scientist and administrator, Father Michael Murphy epitomized the priest-teacher in Holy Cross. When he died in July 2010, he left a legacy, but also a gap that will not easily be filled.