By , Fr. Mark Miller, C.Ss.R.
On Tuesday morning, Dec. 11th, the body of Fr. Joe Murphy was brought to St. Alphonsus parish in Edmonton for the Mass of Christian Resurrection and a celebration of his life. A scant seven months earlier, many Redemptorists, diocesan priests, and religious sisters along with family and friends had gathered in the same church to celebrate Fr. Joe’s 100th birthday. Now we were saying goodbye or, better: “Adieu! Au revoir!”
It was amazing to see so many of the people that Fr. Joe had touched over the years. He always remained close to family members and his nephews/cousins who live in Edmonton, the MacNeil and the Steltenberg families, came to both the prayers at the wake and the funeral. Former parishioners and friends of the Redemptorists came to say farewell. I mention especially Ted and Dorothy Purcell who visited Fr. Joe so faithfully at the Youville Home in St. Albert. And I was pleased to see in attendance so many of the diocesan priests, old (and showing their years!) friends of the Redemptorists such as Don Stein, Len Gartner, John Hesse, etc. as well as the Grey Nuns and a number of other Sisters who knew Joe over the years. It was a gathering of faith, along with love for this servant of God.
It was also a time of sorrow. It is common to think that if somebody has lived for 100 years, his departure from this life would be accompanied by such remarks as, “He lived a good life.” Or “It was time to go.” However, the common sentiment at our gathering was that we all lost a very vibrant and loving friend. I myself find it hard to believe that when I go to Edmonton now I won’t be able to pop in on Fr. Joe and listen to his stories of the early days in the West. Over and over I heard people say, “I already miss Fr. Joe!”
Joe’s years of ministry and then his retirement years at Villa Marguerite have been documented elsewhere. I want to add a word about his final four years at Youville Home where, after a leg amputation due to diabetes’ complications, he spent the rest of his life either in a wheelchair or in bed. And still he was the most wonderful person to visit! He always brightened up at visitors. And he told great stories about ‘the early days,’ about family and friends and about his varied life as a Redemptorist who “chose the West”. He would always ask me “What’s going on in the province?” with genuine interest. And a visit with Fr. Joe, except for the few times when he was confused due to the aftermath of pneumonia, was always an uplifting experience.
We thank God for the gift of his life and, in particular, for his witness of faith and acceptance in his final years. Whatever life holds for each of us, we have a model in this man of great faith and joy. May he rest forever in the peace of Christ Our Redeemer.