Bishop P. Francis Murphy worked for the transformation of society and the church, from the very direct production of affordable housing to public policy advocacy for the hungry, peace, women’s rights in the church, and for interfaith and ecumenical collaboration for social justice. The Murphy Initiative has an agenda as broad and wide as the scope and scale of its namesake, P. Francis Murphy, who was called a first generation bishop of Vatican II.
His motto: “To listen to God speaking in human words.” speaks to who Frank Murphy was and how he served. Names were important to him, and he went out of his way to learn names and to use them often in conversation. It created a connection. Relationship was key whether he was serving on the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Women in the Church and in Society from 1978-1990, or co-founding Interfaith Housing of Western Maryland, Inc., an organization dedicated to developing safe and adequate housing for Western Maryland’s rural poor. In 1980, his initiative at the Catholic Bishops’ General Assembly led to the development of the Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on nuclear weapons and world peace.
His mentor, Cardinal Shehan, undergoing cancer treatment in 1967 and fearing death was imminent, told Msgr. Murphy, still his priest-secretary: “I wish a simple funeral without any fuss, and I want you to give the homily, but don’t exaggerate!” True to his word, now-Bishop Murphy recalled this request seventeen years later at the Cardinal’s funeral on August 31, 1984, as he recalled their association of almost twenty years without exaggeration. Without a doubt, the influence of his mentor was clearly present in the life and work of Frank Murphy, and those who knew him best surely saw him in this, his reflection on his mentor Cardinal Shehan:
“He was a man of inexhaustible energy and perennial youth, marvelously typified by his spritely gait. He had the capacity to transcend societal bias and distinctions by accepting the dignity of each person regardless of position or station in life. He was a man of intelligence and wit, reflecting a scholarly bent; a quiet and contemplative man, at home with solitude and reflection but also happy in the company of others; a man who was fully human, about to acknowledge doubts about his adequacy as bishop yet of no uncertain convictions and strength of character; caring for the needs of others; never vindictive, always ready to forgive; a true pontifex—bridge builder—between one person and another, between different groups, between people and God.” (“The Premier See: A History of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, 1789-1994“ By: Thomas W. Spalding)
Bishop P. Francis Murphy served faithfully as auxiliary bishop of Baltimore from 1976 until his death in 1999. His tireless advocacy for peace and justice is his strong legacy as a native-born Maryland shepherd.
The Murphy Initiative for Justice and Peace was a collective response to the diocese closing its peace and justice office because of budget cuts. The religious communities wanted to honor Frank Murphy and had a passion for continuing his legacy. The initiative came out of a search for the nonviolent Jesus in modern times.