John Foley Murphy’s career was an exceedingly interesting one. He was born on the Feast Day of the Epiphany, January 6, 1843, at “Regina Castle”, County Cork, Ireland, to Benjamin and Catherine (Foley) Murphy. He migrated to the United States in August 1854 with his parents and two brothers, Eugene and Benjamin and his oldest sister Catherine. His other sister Ellen and his youngest brother Michael were born in Connecticut. The Murphy’s made their home in Norfolk, Connecticut. Norfolk has earned a reputation as “the ice box of Connecticut”. The 1860 Census Records indicate his father was 55 years old, born in 1805 in Ireland, and his mother was 36 years old, born in 1824 in Ireland. John grew up in Norfolk, Litchfield County where he attended primary school. Being raised and educated by protestant friends, he was under their influence, and became a member of the Baptist denomination. For a young Catholic boy to survive, he did what he thought was necessary to fit in. During that period in Connecticut, Blue Laws and anti-Catholic sentiment was a common practice, it was a difficult time for the Murphy’s. Later he attended South Berkshire Institute, New Marlboro, Massachusetts, and returned home to enroll at the Norfolk Academy, the local High School. The years after High School, from June 1861 to August 1864 seem be misplaced. The Civil War was raging with the first Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, and most young men either enlisted or were drafted. At 21 years of age, we note that John enrolled in Colgate Academy from 1864 to 1866. This may have been possible, only because he had already served in the US Army, although it has not been confirmed, more than fifty “John Murphy’s,” enlisted from Connecticut. He continued his studies at Colgate College from 1866 to 1870, and received an A.B. Degree. He continued his studies and in June 1872, he received an A.M. Degree from Colgate University, Hamilton Theology Seminary, Hamilton, New York, where he graduated as a Licensed Minister of the Gospel. Although John never was actually ordained as a protestant minister, he took charge of the Baptist church in Waterbury, Connecticut. During his college years, John was a member of the Delta Upsilon fraternity. Delta Upsilon, is an international men’s fraternity founded in 1834, committed to Building Better Men through their four founding principles, friendship, character, culture, and justice, that challenge the brothers to expect nothing less than excellence from themselves and others. The Delta Epsilon Catalog lists John in 1917, as a Catholic priest.
Though the prayers of his mother and falling under the inspiring influence of Right Rev. Francis Patrick McFarland, D.D., Third Bishop of Hartford and former professor at St. Johns College, Fordham, NY, he quit the ministry of the Baptist Church, and on November 2nd 1873, “All Saints Day”, he reentered the Catholic Church in St. Paul’s Church, New York. Ten days later, he prepared for the priesthood, at St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore, Maryland. The Bishop of Hartford paid for his studies. He was ordained at the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore, for the Hartford Dioceses by Most Reverend James Gibbons at Baltimore, December 22, 1877. (See Note No. 1). Father Murphy had the honor to be ordained as the 4th priest, by the newly appointed Archbishop, who later became the second Cardinal to be named in the United States. James Cardinal Gibbons also attended St. Mary’s Seminary.
After his ordination he was assigned to St. Patrick’s Church, Norwich Connecticut as an assistant pastor. Then for a time he did what assistant pastors do that are assigned to the Hartford Dioceses, wait for the next assignment! His next assignment was to assists Father Rogers at St. Mary’s, in Bridgeport, where he improved his priestly duties. Then early in 1878, he was given a sort of a permanent assignment, as resident priest, at the Mission Church in Hampton, Connecticut, where he soon lived.
Mission Church – Our Lady of Lourdes – Hampton – 1878 to 1881
The first indication that Father Murphy was assigned to the mission church was in 1880 during the Federal Census. He is listed as a 37 year old priest by occupation, living in a boarding house in Hampton operated by the Whitaker family. Danielson has always been the center of authority for surrounding missions. Hampton has been under the jurisdiction of the pastor of St. James since the 1870’s. The corner stone of the Hampton church of Our Lady of Lourdes was laid on Thursday the 15th of November 1877 by Bishop Galberry, fourth Bishop of Hartford. Father Murphy is not listed among any of the attending priests. However it is assumed that his assignment followed and he stayed about three and a half years. While he was in Hampton, Father Murphy was naturalized as a US citizen.
St. John’s Cromwell – 1881 to 1895
In July 1881 Rev. Doctor J.H. Ryan was succeeded by Rev. John F. Murphy, “A former protestant minister, and strong enough to offset the wandering sermons of his predecessor”. There is on record a statement from the pen of Father Murphy which reads:
“The Rev. Doctor J.H. Ryan came here in February 1880. He was the first pastor, (before his time, Cromwell was connected with the Middletown parish). He purchased the present location, temporarily fixed up the old house for a rectory, when I came in July 1881; the cellar of the new church was partly excavated. I continued the excavation and got plans for a new church from P.C. Keely; I secured the McKone Brothers of Hartford as builders.”
In that year the cornerstone of the church was laid, and the ceremony of dedication was performed by Bishop McMahon, fifth Bishop of Hartford, and former seminarian of St. Mary’s Seminary, on April 22, 1883. The new church was placed under the patronage of the Beloved Disciple (St. John). The church was an attractive, substantial structure with a seating capacity of 500. Father Murphy’s work in Cromwell may be estimated when it is stated that, besides building the church, he erected the present handsome pastoral residence, and made other improvements which greatly enhanced the value of the parochial property. On June 16, 1895, Father Murphy applied for his first passport. At the time he indicated that he was a Naturalized as a citizen at Brooklyn, Connecticut on the 25 day of October 1880, and he was living as a 51 year old clergyman in Cromwell, Connecticut. On the application he requested that it be sent to 40 Grand Mission Hotel, New York, NY. Shortly after his return from Ireland and Rome, he was transferred. Rev. William Gibbons, (not related to James Cardinal Gibbons) succeeded Father Murphy, at St. John’s. Upon the return of his trip, Father Murphy was assigned to Mystic in September 1895.
St. Patrick’s Church, Mystic – 1895 to 1901
The Rev. John F. Murphy was appointed pastor of Mystic, September 19, 1895, that post having been made vacant by the promotion of Father Dougherty to the ” Permanent Pastor” of St. Mary’s Church in Norwalk. During the next few years Father Murphy labored with true apostolic zeal for the spiritual and general welfare of the faithful committed to his care in Mystic. On January 4, 1897, Father Murphy applied once more for a US passport. (See Note No. 2). At the time he indicated that he immigrated to the United States on August, 1854 at the age of eleven (11). He also indicated that he resided for forty two (42) years, uninterruptedly in the United States, specifically, “Mystic,” which we know was not correct. In 1900 United States Federal Census listed him living in Mystic as a preacher, fifty seven (57) years old. On July 22, 1900, the mission church in Noank was organized. A property lot was secured on Spicer Street, and ground was broken on November 13th. The Catholic’s of Noank, numbered about 400, formally attended the church at Mystic. In June 1901, Father Murphy was now transferred to “the Rock Church” in Hartford.
St. Lawrence O’Toole’s Church, Hartford – 1901 to 1902
The fourth parish to be established within the limits of the city of Hartford was Saint Lawrence O’Toole’s. It was set off from Saint Peter’s by Father Walsh in 1876. Father Walsh did not look beyond himself for a name, it was not as Saint Lawrence’s Church, but as “the Rock Church” that the place of worship was familiarly known at that time. The church no longer hides itself beyond that name, since the quarried rocks are all gone. Father Murphy, carried on his duties a short time at St. Lawrence O’Toole’s, and then went down to Saint Mary’s Church, Bridgeport, and his last assignment.
St. Mary’s Church, Bridgeport – 1902 to 1917
Father John F. Murphy’s, of “the Rock Church”, Hartford was appointed pastor of St. Mary’s, November 4, 1902. He had, in his early sacerdotal days, been an assistant to Father John F. Rogers who died on May 22, 1902, after laboring for more than twenty years at St. Mary’s. In his various charges, Father Murphy is remembered as the affable, kind pastor, whose charity towards the poor was spontaneous, and gave evidence of a soul instinct with human sympathy. His home was the abode of hospitality. This old time pastor was blessed with strength as well as amiability. Father Murphy was firm where he deemed firmness a necessity. He enjoyed reading ecclesiastical history, and he could read through the deeds and minds of men. When he had once chosen his course, he deviated not one iota, from its pursuit.
Several months before his death, he suffered a general breakdown. Although under the constant care of a male nurse, he was able at times to be about the house. Almost to the end he remained in possession of his intellectual faculties, and took cognizance of all parish activities. He died in Bridgeport, on St. Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1917.
While he was at St. Patrick’s, Mystic, he made such a favorable impression, that on April 27, 1919, two years after his death, some forty-six (46) charter members of the Knights of Columbus, Mystic Council No. 1943, named the council after him. Possibly those early charter members knew that Rev. John F. Murphy was a classmate (1873 to 1877), and friend to Rev. Michael J. McGivney at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, and was ordained on the same day December 22, 1877, (3rd priest) by Archbishop Gibbons for the Hartford Dioceses.
Most likely during those four seminary years they spoke about the problems that the Catholic men were facing with all the anti-Catholic sentiment, the “Blue Laws” running across the countryside of Connecticut like fire, and the need to counter act such a feeling. There answer at the time may have been a men’s club, an organization, or a fraternity. Something was needed! After all, Father Murphy was already a member of Delta Upsilon, and had experience in fraternal matters. Could a Catholic fraternity, for all Catholic men, whether or not they attended a college or university be possible? Unknowing at the time, they were developing the fraternal ground work for what in a few years later became the Knights of Columbus.
Father Murphy was a man who finally conquered the anti-Catholic sentiments, and unfair “Blue Laws”, in a place and time, when a young man did what he could do just to survive! He Became a Baptist member and preached the Gospel in a protestant church in Waterbury, Connecticut. He experienced firsthand, the anti-Catholic sentiments, in his early life, and with the help of his mother and the bishop, found his way back into the Catholic Church like the prodigal son. Father Murphy lived the experience, Father McGivney had the dream, together they forged an idea!
He died on February 14th, 1917, and was buried on February 15th, first at St. Aloysius Cemetery, then later moved to the “Priest Circle”, St. Michael’s Cemetery, at the 7 o’clock position, 2205 Stratford Avenue, Stratford, Fairfield County, Connecticut, USA.
1.1873 vs. 1877 The Catholic Church in Connecticut, Right Rev. Thomas S. Duggan, D.D., The States History Company, New York City, 1930; pg. 421, indicated that Rev. John F. Murphy was ordained on December 22, 1873. The month and the day is correct, however the year is wrong. According to the Memorial Volume of the Centenary of St. Mary’s Seminary of St. Sulpice, Baltimore, MD, John Murphy & Co., Baltimore 1891, pg. 63 shows Rev. John F. Murphy being ordained on December 22, 1877. Also in a letter received May 15, 2009, from St. Mary’s Seminary and University, Registration Book, Volume !, 1791 – 1883 , the ordination date of December 22, 1877 is recorded. Due to the wrong year given, the connection between Rev. John F. Murphy and Rev. Michael J. McGivney was never realized!
2.According to the description on his passport, Rev. John F. Murphy was 5 ft 8 inches tall, with brownish eyes, gray hair, and light complexion at age 54, while assigned to St. Patrick’s , Mystic, CT.
1.The Catholic Church in Connecticut, Right Rev. Thomas S. Duggan, D.D., The States History Company, New York City, 1930; pgs. 242, 421, 522, & 566
2.History of the Catholic Church in New England, Volume 2, Very Rev. William Byrne, D.D. and others, Hurd & Everts Co., Boston, 1899, Chapter II, pgs 10 -17, pgs 149, 320 & 412
3.The Catholic Church in the United States of America, Volume I, The Religious Communities of Men, The Catholic Editing Company, New York
4.The Catholic Church in the United States of America Volume II, The Province of Baltimore, The Catholic Editing Company, New York, pg 419 to 433
5.Who’s who in New England, pg 777
6.Catalogue of Delta Upsilon, 1917, Lynne J. Bevan, Published by the Fraternity, New York, under Bridgeport
7.1860 United States Federal Census, Norfolk, pg. 4, Line 31 to 38
8.Passport Application, June 16, 1895, issued at Middletown, Connecticut
9.Memorial Volume of the Centenary of St. Mary’s Seminary of St. Sulpice, Baltimore, MD, John Murphy & Co., Baltimore 1891, pg. 63
10.Diocese of Hartford, Rev. James H. O’Donnell, The D.H.Hurd Co., Boston, 1900
11.Passport Application, January 4, 1897, issued at Mystic Connecticut
12.1880 United States Federal Census, Hampton, Connecticut, Line 12
13.1900 United States Federal Census, Mystic, Connecticut, Line 28
14.Letter to R.C. Moravsik, dated May 15, 2009, from St. Mary’s Seminary & University, Registration Book, Volume 1, 1791-1883
15.St. Michael’s Cemetery, 2205 Stratford Avenue, Stratford, Fairfield County, Connecticut, USA.