Saturday, December 12, 2015

One of the church's unsung heroes: Thanks, Msgr. Murray

News to me:
Msgr. James H. Murray, 83, died on June 14 [2014] at Franciscan Oaks Health Care Center in Denville.
We didn't know each other well but that didn't matter. While Episcopalianism and American Anglo-Catholicism gave me the very basics (the Bible, the creeds, and the concepts of bishops, a liturgy, and sacraments) and some culture (music, liturgical style — old-school, which is why I'm not Novus Ordo), Fr. Murray (as I knew him) passed down to me a fundamental, essential element of the faith: thinking like a Catholic with the church's moral theology, how to examine your conscience to make a good sacramental confession, with the helpful distinction between mortal and venial sin, right out of the old Roman manuals. Passing on what he had learned here:
Msgr. Murray was born and raised in the Little Dublin section of Morristown and graduated from Bayley High School in 1948. He attended Seton Hall University and graduated with a B.A. in philosophy in 1952. He continued his religious education at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Darlington, and was ordained a priest on May 26, 1956 in St. John’s Cathedral in Paterson.
As I've been saying here for at least 10 years, long before coming back to the church, Roman Catholic moral theology is the gold standard.

St. Mary's, Denville, was a charming, modest red-brick 1920s building in a comforting (to me) style trying to recall English Gothic (Anglicanish). (New Jersey uglified in the late '80s with an unfortunate addition to the front, but anyway.) In the Diocese of Paterson in the '70s and '80s it was probably impossible to be liturgically traditional. Fr. Murray implemented the Novus Ordo because he was told to but the old church was still recognizably Catholic, haunted by Tridentine Catholicism certainly if you were looking for it. (Sanctus bell, Father let you kneel for Communion, one Eucharistic minister but in a choir robe, and First Friday, Nocturnal Adoration, and Miraculous Medal devotions; in fact I learned those last three things from St. Mary's.) He was still idiomatically Tridentine: "the Confiteor," "Laetare Sunday." Most important, and maybe under the radar, he taught the faith as he had learned it and nothing but that. I didn't take formal instruction from him; I learned simply from what he taught his parish.
Msgr. Murray ... was active in many community organizations including the Denville Lions Club, PRIDE Council, and Denville Chamber of Commerce. ... Chaplain for the Denville Fire Dept., the Denville Police Dept. and for Denville PBA Local 142. He founded the Joey Bella Fund and had received several awards for his volunteerism. Msgr. Murray was honored with the Denville Rotary Paul Harris Fellow and Saint Clare’s Hospital Mini Bowl Award. member of the Paterson Girl Scouts Council. He had served as the Diocese Director of Scouting.
Part of the culture, patriotic, hardworking towns and neighborhoods like Little Dublin (such as all the Little Palermos and Little Warsaws), including its boys fighting World War II: the American Northeast almost became a Catholic country. We didn't need Vatican II to teach us to be a community; we already were one, and a valued part of our hosts' community.

Catholicism is my faith; American Anglo-Catholicism is my culture, with lateral support from the Christian East: the same time I met Fr. Murray, I went to my first traditional Catholic Mass, which was Ukrainian.

I've been back in the church for four years, trying to keep what Fr. Murray taught me. Well done, good and faithful servant. RIP.


  1. Do you have any recommendations for where one might encounter that stuff from "the old Roman manuals?" Fr. Murray sounds wonderful, also. Requiescat in pace.

    1. There are libraries and the Web, the greatest library ever, for the information, and, very important, people I call living links as Fr. Murray was, people who were formed before Vatican II and have kept that, who teach you not just information but knowledge, how to apply and live the stuff.


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