OBITUARY: The Most Rev John Murphy

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The Independent Online
In the history of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cardiff, John Murphy can rightly be called "The Builder", for he was the guiding force behind one of the most massive church-development programmes in the modern history of Wales.

When Murphy came to Cardiff as Archbishop in 1961 there were only two Catholic secondary schools in the whole of South Wales; before the end of the Sixties, the archdiocese had put up 14 purpose-built comprehensive schools, to meet the needs of the thousands of Catholic children in the region. Between 1960 and 1980 Murphy oversaw the building of 39 churches, 14 new secondary schools and 33 new primary schools. It was a singular and historic achievement.

Murphy was well known to the people of the Cardiff archdiocese, not just for his visitations to the parishes, but also through his many pastoral letters. Had he not been a priest, Murphy said, he would have liked to have been a journalist and certainly his written and spoken words always carried a punch. In his Advent pastoral letter in 1968 he warned that the church was not a democracy:

Its authority does not come from below, from election or from majorities. Its power comes from above. It would be tragic if the Church were to drop the external trappings of royalty to take on the internal structures of democracy. The Catholic Church is not tied down to ancestor worship, granted there are often two sides to a question. But generally the Faith of the Church indicates quite clearly which is the right side, and on those rare occasions when it doesn't, let liberty prevail.

John Aloysius Murphy was born in Birkenhead in 1905, the son of John and Elizabeth Murphy. He was educated at St Francis Xavier's College, Birkenhead, and trained for the Catholic priesthood at the English College, Lisbon. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Shrewsbury in 1931. After a number of pastoral appointments in the Shrewsbury Diocese he was, at the unusually young age of 43, consecrated Coadjutor Bishop of Shrewsbury in February 1948, and succeeded as Bishop of Shrewsbury in June 1949.

After 12 years Murphy moved from Shrewsbury to become Archbishop of Cardiff in 1961. He had hardly settled in Cardiff before he was called to Rome to take part in the historic Second Vatican Council, a Council in which he attended every session and on which he spoke on a number of occasions.

Apart from important changes in the liturgy, one of the most significant changes after the Second Vatican Council in the life of the church has been the involvement in the drawing together of the various denominations. In this process Murphy played a leading part; he was the first Roman Catholic Co-Chairman of the Worldwide Catholic/ Methodist Communion. When he first preached at a Methodist Church in South Wales in 1965, there were diplomatic discussions about what hymns and prayers could be used without causing offence to those present. By contrast, when he preached at an Anglican Eucharist at a church in Cardiff in 1983 he was given a standing ovation. In 1975 the University of Wales conferred on Murphy the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity, in recognition of his contribution to the religious life of Wales.

Archbishop Murphy's retirement at the official church age of 75 was postponed by Rome for a year because of his involvement in the visit of Pope John Paul II to Britain in 1983. He watched proudly as the Pope presided at two public events in the City of Cardiff which attracted 200,000 worshippers. The last of the leading personalities of the pre- conciliar Catholic Church in Britain, John Murphy had a great presence and yet an easy relationship with people. In the words of a former Anglican Archbishop of Wales, Edwin Morris, "he had very clear ideas about where the Catholic Church stood. It never offended me. There is no charity without clarity. No one would accuse him of being anything other than a conservative but he gave great service to ecumenism."

John Owen

John Aloysius Murphy, priest: born Birkenhead 21 December 1905: ordained priest 1931; consecrated Bishop of Appia and Coadjutor Bishop of Shewsbury 1948; Bishop of Shrewsbury 1949-61; Archbishop of Cardiff 1961-83 (Emeritus); died Malpas, Gwent 18 November 1995.