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Murphy, Richard James Francis (1875–1957)

by Judith Nolan

This article was published:

Richard James Francis Murphy (1875-1957), Jesuit priest, was born on 24 April 1875 at Kingstown, Dublin, one of ten children of Richard James Murphy, merchant, and his wife Mary Josephine, née Burden. Dick attended Clongowes Wood College and entered the Society of Jesus at Tullamore at the age of 17. He completed philosophy studies at Maison St Louis, Jersey, Channel Islands, and Stonyhurst College, England, in 1898. Arriving in Sydney in September, he taught at St Ignatius' College, Riverview, and from 1901 at St Patrick's College, Melbourne, where he also organized the work of the Professional Men's Sodality of Our Lady. In 1904 he returned to Dublin. After studying theology at Milltown Park, he was ordained priest on 26 July 1908.

In Sydney again, Murphy taught (1910-11 and 1915-16) at St Aloysius' College. An outstanding tennis player, he was responsible for forming the Catholic Lawn Tennis Association of New South Wales. In 1911 he was transferred to Loyola, Greenwich, to direct retreats for laymen. He developed a strong commitment to medico-moral issues and lectured to nurses at St Vincent's Hospital, Darlinghurst. In 1912 he was a founder of the Catholic Federation of New South Wales. Launched into parochial duties in 1916 as parish priest (superior) at Toowong, Brisbane, he was appointed to Richmond, Melbourne, in 1919. He spent four months in hospital with pneumonia and serious heart problems, but unexpectedly recovered.

Back in Sydney, Murphy was bursar (1920-21) at Riverview for the college and the entire Sydney Mission before returning to pastoral duties at North Sydney (1921-22) and Lavender Bay (1922-24). He lectured on medical ethics to students at the University of Sydney. His book, The Catholic Nurse (Milwaukee, 1923), led him to found the Catholic Nurses' Guild of New South Wales. While superior (1924-33) at Toowong, he supervised the construction of St Ignatius' Church. Between 1933 and 1953 he was based in the parish of North Sydney. With Dr H. M. Moran, he inaugurated the Catholic Medical Guild of St Luke in 1933; he edited its Transactions, in which he published (1943) two articles, 'Catholic Hospitals of Australia' and 'The History of Nursing in Australia'. A council-member of the Newman Association of Catholic Graduates, Murphy founded the Campion Society in Melbourne in 1934 and introduced it to Sydney, where its autonomy was initially suppressed because Archbishop Kelly 'liked to keep a tight rein on his lay societies'. Murphy established the Catholic Chemists Guild of St Francis Xavier. He also set up an organisation for the religious education of Catholic children in state schools.

Although described as a 'diffident' superior, Fr Dick was an enthusiastic, zealous and energetic man who saw the Catholic laity as 'the draught horses of the Church'. He, Dr Sylvester Minogue (a psychiatrist) and others founded Alcoholics Anonymous in Australia in July 1945. Minogue (overlooking Fr Dunlea) noted that with 'the exception of Father Murphy . . . no other clergyman takes any active interest', and observed that he was 'the only one of us with any practical commonsense'. Lillian Roth, the actress, acknowledged the help she had received from Murphy.

In 1955 Murphy retired to Canisius' College, Pymble. He died on 13 November 1957 in Lewisham Hospital and was buried in Gore Hill cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Roth, I'll Cry Tomorrow (Lond, 1955)
  • D. Coleman, Priest of the Highway (Syd, 1973)
  • C. Jory, The Campion Society and Catholic Social Militancy in Australia 1929-1939 (Syd, 1986)
  • St Aloysius' College (Sydney), The Aloysian, 1957, p 24
  • St Ignatius' College, Riverview (Sydney), Our Alma Mater, 1958, p 184
  • Catholic Weekly (Sydney), 18 Sept 1952, 21 Nov 1957
  • AA Assn papers (Alcoholics Anonymous Archives, Croydon, Sydney)
  • Fr R. J. Murphy, SJ, papers (Society of Jesus Archives, Hawthorn, Melbourne).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Judith Nolan, 'Murphy, Richard James Francis (1875–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/murphy-richard-james-francis-11205/text19975, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 27 September 2021.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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