By Marco Ceccarelli
Fifty years in Australia, 60 years in religious life and 80 years alive! – join me for my 2016 trifecta. This could be read on the invitation which Father Laurence Murphy SDS sent out to friends and family earlier this year to announce the celebrations which took place on Sunday, 9 October at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Nollamara.
The Irish-born Salvatorian is a well-known, long-serving priest within the Archdiocese of Perth, having arrived in 1966 to serve within four parishes and to work extensively with youth in both Catholics schools and parishes.
Beginning with a Mass celebrated by Fr Murphy and concelebrated by Salvatorian British Provincial, Fr Alex McAlister; Perth Vicar General, Fr Peter Whitely; Vicar for Clergy, Fr Brian McKenna, Fr Stephen Cooney OPraem and other Archdiocesan clergy, the day’s celebrations paid homage to the beauty of religious life, the importance of the ministry of priesthood and to an eventful life lived in the service of others.
In his homily, Fr McAlister reflected with insight on Fr Murphy’s use of the term “trifecta,” which can be used to describe a type of bet, especially on horse races, in which the bettor selects the first three finishers in exact order, and which can also be used to describe a situation in which three elements come together at the same time.
“I assume that it is this last definition to which Fr Murphy’s invitation refers,” Fr McAlister said. “But maybe there is also something of the first in it too, because committing oneself to religious life and emigrating to another country are both a bit like a bet,” he added.
“But I suppose, too, a birth is also a bit of a bet, but this time it is a bet made by God that what He has made will turn out well and ultimately give glory to Him.
“Yes, God makes a good investment, He knows what the starting material is, that bundle of flesh which is a new baby, but then He throws in the unknown element of our own free will and it is this that makes this new life a real gamble.”
Fr McAlister went on to say that in Fr Murphy’s case these three gambles of new life, commitment to God in a religious order and migration to a new country, had undoubtedly paid off.
He then spoke of the significance and great responsibility of priesthood in today’s world – a responsibility which Fr Murphy had fulfilled exceptionally well – before focusing on a passage from St Paul’s letter to Timothy (4:4-16).
“I will refer to Paul’s opening words in which he affirms that everything created by God is good. This is important. These words give us the perfect attitude with which to view the world. It is all good.
“And from this understanding we come to the conclusion that whatever evil or badness that exists, it all started out as good. It is our job as followers and Apostles of Christ to help those who have made mistakes and gone the wrong way in life to realise that everything has its foundation in God and is originally therefore good. Having given them this understanding, we are able then to guide them back into the life-giving ways of the Lord.”
Fr McAlister emphasised that, in the context of a day filled with celebrations, Fr Murphy’s success in guiding people to God needed to be celebrated as much as his winning the three gambles.
We congratulate him, he said, “first for the courage of choosing to enter religious life which has been fulfilling for him in a spiritual way; secondly for transplanting himself into a completely new country and making the transition necessary to adapt to a new life; and thirdly and most important of all for getting himself born in the first place and for living a long a happy life!”
Vicar General of the Archdiocese, Fr Peter Whitely, also congratulated Fr Murphy and thanked him not only for his service in the parishes where he was involved but also for his contribution to the whole diocese as a member of various Archdiocesan Committees including the Future of Parishes Committee, the Archbishop’s Council of Priests and the Diocesan Resources Committee.
Speaking to The eRecord, Fr Murphy said that he was overcome with a great sense of belonging as he reflected on his faith journey thus far.
“On the day of the celebrations I was overcome with a feeling of belonging to the community, belonging to my fellow priests, both religious and diocesan, and I was filled with great sense of satisfaction at having had such a length of time in the Western Australian community, where I made my home. The warmth and reception I have received from the diocesan clergy was second to none,” he said.
Fr Murphy also spoke of his work with young people as one of the great highlights of his ministry.
“I cherish that great sense of learning from young people that taught me to see the world not as a small narrow little place, but as one with vast horizons. Through the teenagers at school I experienced a sense of appreciation for the broadness, openness and depth of what the Australian community was all about.
“I call myself an Aussie now, an Aussie with an Irish accent. People ask me why I don’t go home to be a priest in Ireland or England. I simply answer: this is my home now.”
Born in Dublin, Ireland on 17 May 1936, Fr Murphy made his religious profession on 11 October 1956 and was ordained priest at Wealdstone, UK, on 7 April 1962. He studied at the University of Swansea, South Wales and was British Province Vocations Director from 1963 to 1964. Fr Murphy taught at the Junior Seminary in Sindlesham for the next two years and was Assistant at St Gregory’s Church, Cheltenham from 1965 to 1966. On September 1966, he sailed to Australia and was made Assistant Priest at St Anthony’s Bellevue, a position he held from 1966 to 1975 before being made Parish Priest there until 1984. During this time he organised the building of St Anthony’s Church in Greenmount.
Fr Murphy became Chaplain at Sacred Heart College in Sorrento from 1985 to 1991 and was then made Parish Priest at St Luke’s in Woodvale for ten years. His Church-building skills came in hand once more during this time as he organised the building of St Luke’s Church. His final instalment was at Our Lady of Lourdes in Nollamara before his retirement in 2013. Among his many duties, Fr Murphy has also been spiritual director to Catholic Women’s League for four years.