By Dan Russo | Witness Staff Writer
Even when he was a busy Naval officer on a nuclear sub, Mark Murphy found time to contemplate the divine.
“At times on the submarine, I was able to drive on the surface at night,” he recalled. “Sometimes I would think of God, especially if the weather was nice,
allowing me to soak in the beauty of my surroundings. One could see the vastness of the ocean and the immensity of the star-filled sky. Creation was powerful, and God had created this all. And He had particularly created me, and I had a role to play.”
After a long spiritual voyage, the 34-year-old native of Marion will be one of three men ordained to the priesthood in the Dubuque Archdiocese June 28.
Murphy is the youngest of Mary and the late Michael Murphy’s three children. He and his older siblings, Sandra and John, grew up as members of St. Joseph’s Parish in his hometown. He first felt gently drawn to be a priest in high school after a friend invited him to a rosary prayer group. That interest didn’t become strong until he was a student at Iowa State University in Ames, where he became involved in the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Student Center.
“I got to know priests, campus ministers, and other students who made their faith a fundamental part of their lives,” said Murphy. “And also, by getting to know the priests, I saw a more human side of them. One of the priests there liked the band Pearl Jam and so did I. One of the priests was a Cardinals fan while I like the Cubs …. I could see myself doing what they do.”
During his time in college, he was introduced to spiritual direction, a priest discernment group and more meditative prayer, which helped deepen his relationship with God. He was also involved in the Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and had an obligation after he graduated. Murphy joined the military because he wanted to serve his country, be part of something bigger than himself and see the world.
“So many in the past had sacrificed for me, so I felt an obligation to be willing to sacrifice for others if need be,”said Murphy.
He found what he was looking for in the Navy, spending five years there. As a junior officer on submarines for about three- and-a-half years, his jobs varied from assisting the engineer with chemistry and radiological controls to being in charge of the radio room and external communications.
Although he kept in touch with the archdiocesan vocations director, becoming a priest wasn’t at the forefront of his mind at that point. Towards the end of his time in the military, he again encountered people whose faith was vital to them and resumed his practice of regular prayer.
“Although I’m proud I served in the Navy, I don’t think I was made to be a submariner,” said Murphy. “I cherished the opportunities when we were at port and I could go to midday Mass at the chapel on the submarine base. It was a world away. For a few moments, I left the busyness of thein-port submarine and entered the transcendence of God coming to us in Mass. The contrast had an attractiveness to it which drew me to the Mass and to God.”
By the time, he returned to civilian life, his desire to be a priest was stronger than ever. He saw many parallels between his ideal of sacrifice for his country and the role of a priest serving God and his people.
“I hope to honor God by sacrificing out of imitation of Jesus and love of Him,” reflected Murphy.He spent two years at St. Pius X Seminary at Loras
College in Dubuque before spending an additional four years at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Witnessing the election of Pope Francis up close from St. Peter’s Square had a profound impact.
‘“Pope Francis asked us to pray for him,” wrote Murphy of the experience. “He bowed down. The square and the surrounding neighborhood, which only minutes ago was very loud with joy, was now silent. I was (so) touched by this silence … I had to remind myself to pray for him. Being present at this moment in history is probably what I’ll remember most about my priestly formation.”
Being ordained a transitional deacon last year was also a significant event for Murphy. When he later had the chance to baptize the baby of his friends over Christmas break, it further re-enforced the joy in his vocation. “It was an intimate moment for me to actually baptize the daughter of my friends, though we were in front of a large crowd. I was focused on them and their daughter, and, in a sense, by performing the baptism, I participated in their lives in a different way.”
Murphy recommends anyone considering the priesthood or religious life to pray, talk to people with the same vocation being considered and also learn about the saints. No stranger to the sea, he is excited to begin casting his net as a fisherman for Christ.
“I think a great gift of being a priest is the vocation of helping people to encounter God,” he said. “I look forwardmost to helping people meet our loving Lord in their own lives.”
What they’re saying about Mark
Mary Murphy, Mark’s mother:
When Mark was baptized as an infant by Father Keith Birch (back in 1979), Father Birch laid our little son on the altar of St. Joseph’s Church in Marion and asked God to protect him and provide for Mark a life filled with blessings. At that time, Mark’s maternal grandmother looked at me and said, “Perhaps
this child will be a priest.” I feel Mark’s desire to serve Christ was fostered by many friends (young and not so young), relatives, and the good people he met at St. Joseph’s, the former Regis High School, and Iowa State University. Mark’s best qualities are kindness, caring, generosity, a rare sense of humor, and confidentiality. Now Mark will be placed once again at the altar. He will prostrate himself before God, his archbishop, and those in attendance at St. Raphael’s Cathedral. As I was moved by Father Birch’s prayer for one-month-old Mark, I too will be moved on ordination day, knowing with all certainty the Holy Spirit will descend down upon Mark, blessing him to walk in the way of the Gospel and to share Christ’s light.
Pat Murphy, Mark’s aunt:
I remember when Mark was young he was very disciplined. In fact, he wouldn’t even eat a hamburger if the ketchup was cold. Mark’s ketchup had to be at room temperature. Being a dietitian, I liked things kept under refrigeration, but for Mark a bottle ketchup was kept on the counter. When Mark was in high school, I knew things had changed. I stayed with the family when Mary O. (Mark’s mom) had surgery. One morning Mark and a friend were doing homework. It wasn’t science or chemistry or math, it was their religion assignment. As I was listening to the boys discuss the history of religion, I knew it wasn’t “homework” they were doing; it was discovering Christ and how it had affected and would affect their lives. That’s when I really knew what Mark wanted to do with his life. In the Navy, Mark traveled around the world, but Iowa, including the Archdiocese of Dubuque, is where he wants to spend his life.
Tom Murphy, Mark’s uncle:
We are so proud of Mark and what he has accomplished. He has been through so much in the last few years. We believe Mark will be a tremendous priest and I will mention just one of his many fine traits. Mark is blessed with the quality of being an excellent listener. When you speak with Mark, you know you have his full attention and interest. He hears you and asks questions so he knows that he understands what you are saying. He is so full of empathy and compassion. I am reminded of the passage in the Prayer of St. Francis when I think of Mark; ”Grant that I may seek not so much to be understood as to understand.” Congratulations, Mark, on your ordination! We wish you a long and blessed life in the priesthood.
Tom & Sue O’Leary, Mark’s uncle and aunt:
Mark we are so proud of you on your very special day. You will be a wonderful priest. God bless you!
Tara Gibney, friend:
Since I’ve known him, Mark has grown, gone through career changes, been around the world – but the core to who he is as a person has never changed. Mark has been the most authentic and selfless person I’ve ever met. He has a deep understanding of Church doctrine and history, but has a way of translating it to everyday life and helping others relate to it. Mark has a sense of humor – subtle in nature, but intelligently side-splitting funny. I hope he can weave that into his homilies from time to time!
Favorite meal: Pizza
Favorite pro sport and team: MLB, Chicago Cubs, but follows Iowa and Iowa State sports more than the pros.
Favorite saint: St. Mark
Favorite quote: “Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)
Favorite book: Histories
Favorite movie: Rocky IV & The Karate Kid
Favorite subject in school: History