Nick Charles (wheelerwoolsey) wrote in mich_history,
Nick Charles

Bishop William Murphy

2008 marks the 70th anniversary of the Roman Catholic diocese of Saginaw, Michigan. Saginaw's first bishop was William Murphy, who served as bishop until his death in 1950. At the time of his death, the Saginaw News printed this biography of Bishop Murphy. From the Saginaw News of Tuesday, February 7, 1950, pg. 9:

Gained Reputation For His Leadership.

William Francis Murphy, 64, first Roman Catholic bishop of Saginaw, was the spiritual leader of more than 100,000 Catholics in Northeastern Michigan.

He was appointed by the late Pope Pius XI who established the 16 county diocese Feb. 26, 1938.

At the time of his death, Saginaw's bishop was the highest ranking Murphy in the Catholic Church. He jokingly informed newsmen of the face in Rome in 1946.

This kindly man with the jovial Irish spirit won a host of friends in all walks of life. His jolly wit attracted people; his deep sincerity retained them as friends.

Gifted with an easy charm, he was equally at home in the parlor of a cardinal's mansion or visiting the shack of a migrant beet-harvest worker.

He prepared for his pastoral work as bishop by years of parish work in Ann Arbor, Marine City, and Detroit.

Fellow bishops hailed him as a man of great talent, deep learning and outstanding priestly leadership.

Under his leadership the young diocese of Saginaw gained a widespread reputation for social and charitable work among the poor.

Bishop Murphy established Catholic Charities bureaus in Saginaw, Bay City, Alpena and Bad Axe.

Faced with caring for the spiritual wants of thousands of Catholic migrant workers here each summer, he organized the Mexican Apostolate, which last year brought the church's teachings and services to 4,576 migrant workers and their families.

The warm-hearted bishop encouraged drives for money, food and clothing for war victims in Europe. He urged his followers to make room in their homes for European displaced persons.

Bishop Murphy once told what he thought of poverty in a Christmas message to his people: "Christ began His mission of saving and redeeming the human race by being born in the sqaulor of a stable. He ennobled poverty."

A Chicago newspaperman who came here in the summer of 1947 to write a series of articles on migrant workers expected Bishop Murphy would assign a priest to show him what the Catholic Church was doing for the Mexicans.

The reporter was taken aback when the bishop said: "Come along. I'll show you."

The kindly bishop was known to officiate at the weddings of the poorest couples--"to give them a day to remember."

Last winter, he visited in jail Pat Murphy, the burglar who had confessed he broke into the bishop's house on Holland Avenue. He joked with Pat, then severely admonished him about returning to the practice of his Catholic faith.

Curing Bishop Murphy's episcopate, the number of Catholics in the Saginaw Diocese increased annually. Latest official figure--107,906.

He establsihed new parishes, planned new schools. His great interest in church bulding was so great that his first automobile ride after being confined in bed with a heart ailment in the fall of 1948 was a trip to Vassar to inspect a new church there which was to be dedicated the following Sunday.

There he met a Saginaw News reporter who had broken the news of his illness.

The usual Irish smile came slowly to his lips. "So help me," he warned the reporter, "if you write that I'm out riding today against my doctor's orders, it's curtains for you."

William Francis Murphy was born May 11, 1885 into a religious family. Four of the 10 children born to William and Mary Murphy in their Kalamazoo home followed religious vocations.

The future bishop was the baby and only boy of the family. When he was four years old, the first of his sisters left home to join a small band of Sisters of St. Joseph who had come from Watertown, N.Y. to work in a Kalamazoo hospital. She took the name Sister Mary Agnes.

Within a few years two more of William's sisters joined the St. Joseph order and became parochial school teachers. They took the names Sister Mary DeChantal and Sister Mary Lucille.

When Sister Mary Agnes, in later years given the title of Mother, died in 1948, the three nuns and their bishop brother had served a combined total of over 200 years in the service of the Roman Catholic Church.

Whenever the Murphys have been praised for their religious works, they have referred the praise to their pious parents.

William and Mary Murphy migrated from County Wexford, Ireland and built a humble home in Kalamazoo.

William Sr. died at the age of 56. The children in later years remembered more vividly their saintly mother.

Her children have recounted proudly how exacting Mrs. Murphy was about attending religious services. The parish priests smilingly remarked that they never had to depend on clocks to start service on time for when Mrs. Murphy walked passed the rectory they knew it was time for church.

Two weeks before Mrs. Murphy's death she spent some time with her son at his Detroit parish, St. David's. Never idle, she examined his entire wardrobe and kept busy mending, pressing, cleaning, and sewing buttons on his cloths.

She became ill shortly afterward and was consoled in her last days by having her son say Mass daily in the small living room next to her sick room.

Young William attended St. Augustine's Parochial School in Kalamazoo. After being graduated from high school there, he went to Kitchenever, Ont., for junior college at St. Jerome College.

With the priesthood his aim, he studied philosophy at Assumption College, Sandwich, Ont. and prepared for the study of theology.

An outstanding student, in 1904 he was handed what American seminarians consider a prize plum--an appointment by his bishop to study theology at North American College in Rome.

For five thrilling years he sat at the feet of the Catholic Church's most illustrious teachers and absorbed the religious learning of the centuries.

In the hours not reserved for classes or study there were long walks along the hill streets of Rome--to ancient churches built over the remains of early Christian martyrs, to the ruins of Caesar's Rome, to the catacombs where persecuted Christians had worshipped in hiding.

The names of some other students at North American College at that time have a familiar ring: Edward Mooney and Samuel Stritch, both now cardinals; and John J. Sonefeld, now a monsignor and vicar general of the Saginaw Catholic Diocese.

Rev. Fr. William F. Murphy was ordained a priest June 13, 1908. In the Basilica of St. John Lateran, one of Rome's largest churches, he knelt before Cardinal Respighi for the laying on of hands. No word was said. In that simple action the main ambition of the 23-year-old man was fulfilled. He was given the spiritual powers of a priest.

The next morning he stood before an altar built on the tomb of St. Peter and began his first Mass with the words: "I will go unto the altar of God--unto God who gives joy to my youth."

Having impressed his superiors with his scholarship, Rev. Fr. Murphy was permitted to continue at Rome his studies in theology and church law. Later in 1908 he completed requirements for the degree of doctor of theology. In 1909 he earned the degree of lector of canon law.

Back in his Detroit diocese, Rev. Fr. Murphy was assigned at once to parish work. He served as assistant pastor at St. Thomas Church, Ann Arbor; Holy Cross Church, Marine City; and SS. Peter & Paul (later Blessed Sacrament Cathedral), Detroit.

In 1921 he was given the task of building up a new Detroit parish, St. David's. Under his direction the parish grew to include 1,600 families. Its parochial school soon enrolled 1,100 students.

In addition to his parish duties, Rev. Fr. Murphy was appointed master of ceremonies for Detroit Bishop Michael J. Gallagher's cathedral services. He soon memorized the elaborate details of the liturgical processions, bows, postures and movements about the altar and could direct a complete service without a noticeable hitch.

Later as a bishop he never required prodding from his master of ceremonies. He knew his liturgy.

In 1934, while pastor of St. David's, Rev. Fr. Murphy was named a monsignor by Pope Pius XI. This honorary title made him a "domestic prelate"--one "preferred" in the church's family.

On March 4, 1938, Saginaw learned that Msgr. Murphy had been named by Pope Pius XI as first bishop of Saginaw. The news that a new diocese was being establsihed with headquarters in Saginaw had been announced nine days earlier.

On St. Patrick's Day, March 17, the appointment was confirmed in impressive ceremonies in St. Peter's, Rome. Msgr. Murphy did not go to Rome for the ceremonies. His consecration as a bishop was planned for May 17 at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Detroit.

On the day of consecration in Detroit Archbishop Mooney, assisted by Bishop Joseph C. Plagens of Marquette (later of Grand Rapids) and Bishop John C. Duffy of Buffalo, N.Y., laid their hands on the head of the 53-year-old priest.

They repeated the words of Christ: "Receive the Holy Spirit as one of the greatest powers given to a human to become a teacher in the church of God."

Eulogies then became the order of the day. Former schoolmate Archbishop Samuel Stritch mounted the cathedral pulpit and declared:
"We who have known Bishop Murphy for many years and are familiar with his talents, gifts of nature, deep learning, administrative and pastoral experience and outstanding priestliness, realize that Our Holy Father in giving Saginaw a bishop could not have made a better choice.
"Bishop Murphy approaches the episcopal ministry with rare qualifications of mind and soul. He will indeed be a pastor among the clergy and people, a fearless witness of Christ."

Saginaw City Councilmen sent greetings stating that Saginaw had been "signally honored" and that they hoped Bishop Murphy's tenure here would be a long and happy one.

Next day The News noted editorially:
"Bishop Murphy has a long and distinguished record in the service of his church, a record that qualifies im not only for leadership of the spiritual forces of the diocese but to take a primary part in the community life of Northeastern Micigan.
"His arrival will mark the beginning of a new epoch in the growth of the Catholic Church in the diocese and one that no doubt will continue and accelerate development in spiritual service that has taken place in the past."

Bishop Murphy arrived in Saginaw the evening of May 31. He was met on Dixie Highway by a cavalcade of cars and escorted to the Hoyt Park bowl where civic leaders extended a warm and wordy welcome.

The bishop smiled his warmest smile as the crowd of thousands applauded his introduction. Then he keynoted his entire service in Saginaw:
"I come primarily as a spiritual leader," he said, "but I will not be blind to your temporal affairs.
"I am a man of peace, and a promoter of peace, not to be bought by compromise. I come with the peace of good will and in the name of the Prince of Peace."

The previous day Gov. Frank Murphy, addressing a labor rally at Saginaw's Riverside Park, had pleaded for peace between labor and management. The governor had cited the nation's total of 10 to 12 million workers unemployed and had stated that every other national problem would have to be subordinated and both labor and management would have to give ground to make peace and restore full employment.

Next morning, in gaily decorated St. Mary's Cathedral, Archbishop Mooney seated Bishop Murphy in his bishop's chair.

The cathedral was filled to overflowing. A larger crowd waited outside through the ceremony.

The enthronement took place in the second oldest Catholic Church in Saginaw, not many miles from where a pioneering Jesuit Missionary, Rev. Fr. Henry Nouvel, offered the first Mass ever said in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan on Dec. 3, 1675.

Bishop Joseph G. Pintern, now deceased, of Grand Rapids, who gave over care of 13 counties to the new bishop of Saginaw, was celebrant of the Mass that followed.

The bishop's robes have rested easily on the shoulders of Bishop Murphy. Nine years after he became bishop of Saginaw, his friend Edgar A. Guest, with whom he often golfed and fished, could write of him in verse:

"A bishop, bass upon his hook,
Rod bent and taut line swishing,
Without his robe and shepherd's crook
Is just a man out fishing."

Bishop Murphy was an active member of the Michigan State Historical Society, the Detroit Tennis Club and the Detroit Athletic Club.

Saginaw's bishop had a private audience with Pope Pius XII in February, 1946.

He had flown to Rome in the party of Archbishop Edward Mooney to be present at the elevation of four Americans to the rank of cardinal, Archbishop Mooney included.

Bishop Murphy later commented on the lively interest the Pope showed in labor conditions and strike developments in the Saginaw area, particularly any trends toward Communism.

"I was able to inform His Holiness that there are no Communistic tendencies in this area and that our workers are solid, democratic people," the bishop reported.

Illness last Spring caused Bishop Murphy to cancel his journey to Rome to report to the Pope on diocesan affairs in Saginaw.

The bishop leaves four sisters: Sister Mary Lucille at Lee Memorial Hospital in Dowagiac; Mother Mary DeChantal, superior of St. Phillip Neri School in Detroit; Mary A. Murphy and Elizabeth C. Murphy of Saginaw.

Tags: biographical sketches, detroit, religion, saginaw
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