Cardinal Keith O’Brien joined the Cistercian community at Nunraw Abbey on Monday, 18 February, to pay tribute to the last founding member of the abbey, Dom Donald writes in his blog.
Father Stephen (Patrick Joseph) Murphy OCSO was born in 1924 in London, UK. He entered Mount St Joseph Monastery in 1943, made solemn profession in 1948. Father was in his 89th year and had been in monastic vows for 68 years when the Lord called him.
Obituary of Fr Stephen Murphy OCSO
Fr Stephen has been a gentle presence in the Nunraw community for over 60 years.
The members of the community are asked from time to time to write down any wishes they would have about their funerals among other things. In the space given for the choice of hymns, etc., Fr Stephen wrote, perhaps with his tongue in his cheek, ‘Just silent prayer’. This reminds me a little of the priest in the early days of the vernacular in the liturgy stemming from Vatican II. He was not happy about losing his familiar Latin Mass. His remarks about using English in the liturgy was, ‘Over my dead body!’. So when it came to his funeral, the presiding priest recalled this and said, ‘So be it!’ To be fair to Fr Stephen, he did say that he was quite happy about whatever the abbot decided to do regarding his own funeral.
Whether we read the scriptures directly or as we pray them in the celebration of the Eucharist or the Divine Office, they are the key to eternal life. They are also the nourishment that keeps us going till we get there. This seems all very simple, and they are part and partial of what made Fr Stephen the man and the monk that we knew. But, it is not all as simple as we might think in Stephen’s case.
First of all, we knew he came from Roscrea in County Tipperary in the first years of the foundation here at Nunraw. He was Irish. What else, with a name like Patrick Murphy? In fact this Irishman with the native Irish accent was born in London, albeit of Irish parents. So he was not the genuine article! Patrick was sent to Blackrock College for his education and, from there, eventually entered the community and given his new monastic name, Stephen. Within a few short years he joined the other founders at Nunraw. It is very appropriate that Fr Richard, the abbot of Roscrea, has been able to be with us today for this Mass for this last founder of Nunraw. As always, we are very pleased to have him with us.
Just last year, on a visit to Roscrea I met Fr Éanna, who was in the novitiate with Fr Stephen. He told me that Stephen always had a copy of the New Testament in his hand. I told Fr Éanna that, if that was the case, in his other hand would have been holding one of the books of P G Wodehouse. In Fr Stephen were balanced the Word of God on the one hand and that fine writer of good English prose, humour and fun on the other. We all knew that this fine specimen of a monk in our midst had a good sense of humour.
In the final months, when we were pulling his leg, he would often say, accusingly, but with that familiar twinkle in his eye, ‘It’s no wonder it’s the way I am!’ And just a few days ago, someone remarking on Fr Stephen particular kind of jokes, said that God might already be warning him that if he didn’t restrain himself he might be sent back to Nunraw.
On the coffin we have placed a copy of the scriptures - the love of his life; the rule of St Benedict – which was the rule of his life, and a priestly stole. (There wasn’t a sufficiently well bound copy of one of P G Wodehouse’s books to put beside them.)
It may not have been known to many that Fr Stephen had to bear illness for most of his life. He accepted that and yet managed to do a lot of little jobs that occupied his day. He would take charge of little but necessary chores in our refectory in preparation for meals and he was the main producer of woollen socks for the community.
In later years he spent a lot of his time welcoming visitors to the abbey.
In addition to feeding them with his spiritual thoughts, he would sometimes regale them the amusing and funny side of monastic life. So, in spite of his long-lasting ailments, Fr Stephen gave health and cheer to others in their spiritual needs. He who had ill health gave strength and help to those who were themselves needing support. It was not unusual in the past couple of years to have people coming to see him or enquiring how he was keeping. He had kind of effect on them.
During his declining health, especially over the past few months, the doctors and nurses gave unstinting help to relieve any pain he was experiencing.
On several occasions in the last months, when he was being given a cup of coffee and a biscuit, he would offer his carer the biscuit he had if he thought he didn’t have one himself. It was the nature of the man. That came from a long life of hardship and a great deal of suffering. He could only have put up with that by not thinking too much about it and leaving his pain in God’s hands. He accepted his bad health with good grace. No doubt that is why he grew spiritually through it. One effect of that was that people were drawn to him.
Fr Stephen had a great love of God and would say that all he wanted was to do God’s will. He was more than ready to go when God called him in the end
As the Gospel says he who believes in the Son of God will be raised up to eternal life. That is the story that has been lived out in the life of Fr Stephen.
May he now enjoy the new life of God in heaven.