Fr. Kevin Murphy, OSB, enters eternal rest

On Friday, 15 April 2022, at 2:05 p.m. as our community prepared for the Solemn Commemoration of Our Lord’s Passion, our beloved confrere, Father Kevin Murphy, OSB anticipated the death and resurrection of the Lord as he entered the company of the saints. Fr. Kevin originally made monastic profession at St. Benedict’s Abbey, Benet Lake WI, and had come to Conception Abbey in 2018, a few years after the two communities were reunited. A golden jubilarian of both profession and priesthood, Fr. Kevin had resided in St. Stephen’s Infirmary at Conception since his arrival from Benet Lake. 

John Murphy was born on 3 March 1936 in Wilmette IL to Edward Paul and Katherine Dorothy (née Stuppy) Murphy. The family came to boast nine sons in all, completing the number with three sets of twins, of whom John and his brother Frank were the middle pair. 

The family lived at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Wilmette, where John was baptized and eventually attended the parochial school. It was there that the young John formed his first ideas about entering the priesthood; the sisters who taught there were avid promoters of priestly and religious vocations. In 1954, he graduated from New Trier High School in Winnetka IL. During high school, he had also considered other vocations, but one day his mother gently recalled to his mind his youthful intention of giving his life to serve others. Her words were sufficiently persuasive, and he began to look into specific matters of pursuing the path to priesthood. His notions of priestly service had always borne concomitant interests in both community life and missionary work as well; both notions helped to guide him in his investigation.

Two of John’s older brothers happened to make a retreat at the monastic community then being formed at Benet Lake, just across the state line in Wisconsin. They arranged that a packet of vocation materials from Benet Lake be sent to their younger brother. The convergence was serendipitous; Benet Lake had been originally conceived by Abbot Richard Felix as a program of missionary outreach, seeking to form monastic missions in needy areas of the United States and the developing world. On the very day that the materials arrived, John asked his mother to drive him to Benet Lake. Shortly after his high school graduation John was admitted to the community. He noted that his early experience of Abbot Richard and monastic life was “a little overwhelming,” but he persevered and completed the novitiate. He received the name Kevin upon profession of first vows on 28 August 1956. He then commenced studies in philosophy and theology at Benet Lake, and spent a summer studying library science at the motherhouse in Conception. After his ordination on 26 May 1962, his first assignment was to the monastic missionary foundation in Morelia, Mexico. Equipped with only two years of high school Spanish (often confused, he admitted, with the more rigorous Latin), he eagerly undertook the challenges that the new assignment was sure to bring. 

Fr. Kevin spent time in several missions serving the poor throughout Central America, including: Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala. When Fr. Kevin was serving in El Salvador, he knew and eventually became friends with Archbishop Oscar Romero. He was able to witness firsthand Archbishop Romero’s transformation into a great pastor and advocate for the poor. Fr. Kevin was eventually obliged by the political situation to leave El Salvador when circumstances became dangerously tumultuous, but was able to return to El Salvador to attend the ceremonies when Archbishop Romero was named a saint in October 2018.

Fr. Kevin often asserted that he was motivated to place mission work at the core of his life simply by the opportunity it afforded to do pastoral ministry—to offer Mass for the people, to tend to their spiritual needs. After thirty years’ work in those missions, when the increasing effects of age made it necessary for him to return to his home monastery, Fr. Kevin continued to contribute to the missionary endeavors. He engaged in development projects which allowed him to send funds each year to support the library at the seminary in El Salvador. Fr. Kevin frequently affirmed his longstanding appreciation for the beauty of nature, having enjoyed canoeing and bird watching on the Wisconsin lake that gave his house of profession its familiar name of Benet Lake.

Fr. Kevin was always friendly and gregarious. When still able to go about in the monastery, he liked to chat with any confreres he might meet in any of our community rooms, and was always at his happiest when gathered with his brother monks for evening recreation after dinner. The COVID outbreak necessarily curtailed his contacts with all the monks except those in the Infirmary, but never failed to give a cheerful wave and greeting to those masked monks who might have business that brought them to the nursing station at St. Stephen’s. By the time the pandemic had begun to wane, his deteriorating health kept him largely confined to the Infirmary.

On Wednesday 30 March of this year, Fr. Kevin suffered an apparent stroke and was briefly hospitalized. It was judged by his doctors that he was unlikely to recover in any significant degree, so he was returned home to our monastery Infirmary and placed on hospice care. He was occasionally conscious, but not able to speak with clarity—though it was clear that he appreciated the presence of his confreres as his hour drew near. The unexpected tolling of the passing bell on Good Friday announced his death to his brother monks.

Father Kevin was preceded in death by his parents, his twin brother Frank, and brothers Edward, Laurence, G. David, Robert, Donald, Fr. James, and Paul; and by his sisters-in-law Patricia Hart Murphy Herrington and Barbara Bruns Murphy. He is survived by his sisters-in-law Mrs. Dorothy Mullaly Murphy, Mrs. Katherine Huck Murphy, and by twenty-six nieces and nephews and their families, and by his monastic confreres.

The reception of the body of Fr. Kevin took place at 4:15 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Infirmary Chapel at Conception Abbey on Monday 18 April 2022. The Office of the Faithful Departed commenced at Vigils of Tuesday 19 April, and a Funeral Mass was celebrated at 11:00 a.m that morning at Conception. Fr. Kevin’s body was conveyed to Benet Lake, where a Visitation was held at St. Benedict’s Abbey from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. on Thursday 21 April 2022, followed by a Funeral Mass, burial, and luncheon. 

We commend our beloved confrere to your prayerful remembrance. May he rest in eternal peace!

Abbot Benedict and Community

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