It is with a great sense of loss and sadness I announce the death last night of Fr. Pierce Murphy in the Blackrock Clinic, in Dublin. Fr. Pierce enjoyed mixed health in the last while, but he continued to have that steely determination to do as much as he could to further the gospel message. Ordained in 1966, he held many parish appointments and diocesan responsibilities in the field of catechetics and religious education. In 2006 he stepped down from administration duties as Parish Priest of Bagenalstown to assume a unique role then, as a ‘floating curate’ to the Borris Deanery. In addition to his areas of responsibility, he had a keen ecumenical interest, but will be remembered especially for his wonderful gift of communicating with children. Fr. Pierce was very creative, printing personal calendars and cards, and even publishing books. He always stayed very close to his family and friends. May his gentle soul rest in peace.
Born: 31 August 1941
Ordained: 19 June 1966
His home place was Clare Road, Dublin 9.
St Patricks NS, Drumcondra, Dublin 7
St Mary’s Knockbeg, Carlow (1954-1959)
St Patricks College, Maynooth (1959-1966)
Mount Oliver, Dundalk (1971-1974)
Carlow College, St Patricks (1993-1994)
Appointments with Dates:
|Diocesan Adviser to Primary Schools||1971-1988|
|Staff||Carlow College, St Patricks||1974-1983|
|Floating Curate||Borris Deanery||2006-2019|
Funeral arrangements for Fr Pierce Murphy are as follows:
Reposing at St. Laserian’s Church, Ballinkillen (R21Y004) from 1pm on Sunday with removal at 5.30 pm to St. Andrew’s Church, Bagenalstown arriving at 6pm.
Requiem Mass on Monday at 12 noon, burial in St. Mullins Cemetery.
Homily of Bishop Denis at the Funeral Mass for Fr Pierce Murphy
We gather this Monday at noon to pay a faith-filled farewell to Fr. Pierce Murphy. Only two weeks ago to the day, we gathered in St. Conleth’s Church, Newbridge, to commend John Cummins to his Lord and Maker. It’s fair to say it’s been a lonely couple of weeks for the Kildare & Leighlin Diocesan family of priests, religious and lay people as we have had to say goodbye to men who have have shaped our faith story; to priests who have walked with us in moments of tremendous joy, exuberance and celebration and equally have been there when words seemed inadequate and pain was too much to bear.
Fr. Pierce was in my books very much a trailblazer. It was his request to Bishop Jim in 2006 that he would be “a floating curate” and that’s what he called it. The obituary may suggest he was a “Deanery Assistant” but Pierce saw himself as a floater, and floated freely within the seven parishes of Borris Deanery. He lived in Borris at Clonagoose; looked after Primary School ministry in Skeogh and Newtown; secondary school ministry in Borris and Graignamanagh; continued to chaplain BEAM Services for Adult members with Special Needs in Bagenalstown; kept a keen interest on ‘The Byrne Trust’ that supports the school children of Myshall and supplied holiday cover in Paulstown. He loved to celebrate Mass on Christmas Eve in Leighlinbridge and continued that tradition to the end.
When his vision restricted him from driving in recent months, there was a rota devised that brought Pierce everywhere. He was never without a driver and there were oodles of volunteers, such was the affection for Pierce. Today we prepare ourselves to let him return to his Lord and Maker. Letting go isn’t easy. I think very much of Pierce’s sister Veronica, brother George, sister-in-law Phil, nieces and nephews, all of whom he was very close to; I think of his brother priests, among them a number who have been in a fraternity group with him since 1980 and Pierce was the one responsible to organise and lead that group at its meetings.
He loved to keep things simple, so simple that a child could understand and comprehend, he’d so often remark. It was the teacher in him, every step of the way. We simply pause a moment to acknowledge our own sins and pray for God’s love, grace and mercy …
Fr. Pierce would be the first to remind us, speak to the scripture and where the scripture leads us. Matthew’s brief gospel text was chosen to reflect Pierce’s raison d’etre, that everything we did, everything we taught, everything we said had to be understood by children, had to appeal to a child’s mind, “for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs”. And that’s not in any way to suggest we needed to become childish but in fact simply childlike, which is a very different thing.
I often think that Pierce despite living into his 78th year, was still very much a child at heart. Only recently I heard again of his Christmas Eve celebration in Leighlinbridge and the phonecall Pierce made to the delight of as many of the younger adults in the congregation, as much as the little ones present, that phone call to Santa Clause. For Pierce it was always a local call!
His compilation of ‘The “Ducks” of Borris’ in 2013 commemorating the railway line that once ran from Bagenalstown to St. Mullins and then into the foreign territory of Wexford! How the young Pierce mixed up the word duck and duct when, on the return journey from holidays in Ballinalour, in St. Mullins, his mother asked him to look out for the Ducts of Borris! And he could find no ducks anywhere!!
Of course, that publication and Pierce published generously as we all know, celebrated the many bridges, railway houses and crossings that continue to be a reminder of the old steam trains and the later diesel trains, now silent in these parts. In his life Pierce was in essence a bridge builder. He always found the way around things, no matter how complex or complicated, Fr. Pierce always offered a reflective answer, many times closing his eyes as he delivered it, such was his passion. And it was an answer that was always generous, always went that extra mile.
While industry standards might prefer the precision of Adobe Indesign or Quarkxpress, Pierce’s work of design and desktop publishing allowed him to marry fonts with occasions, borders with photos. We weren’t surprised to see his self-produced calendar in 2015 focusing on that theme of ‘Bridges’. Like all his calendars and indeed his books, they focused on his journey of ministry and his personal vacation time, which in itself was also a ministry. The month that caught my eye that year were the photographs attached to the month of October, the story of Monasterevin and its 26 bridges. While most, have disappeared by now, it was once known as the ‘Venice of Ireland’. I wonder does that qualify Liam Merrigan to become a gondolier! With Pierce there was always a teaching, a lesson – December that year had the images of two cribs, one from Drummond, the other from Adelaide, thousands of kilometers apart, but the same message – that Jesus is the bridge between God and Man.
It was this gift of teaching, that stayed with Pierce for a lifetime. St. Paul to the Romans teaches us about baptism; the Book of Ruth reminds us Pierce was someone from Dublin who rooted himself into the heart of Kildare & Leighlin, following two uncles before him. The Book of Ruth has a sense of leaving it in God’s hands, and that so beautifully encapsulates Pierce. As he would gently say in the Blackrock Clinic only a few days ago “whatever will be, will be”.
He loved preparing children for the sacraments; as the children of Skeough will testify from his Tuesday visits. He saw a huge value of serving on School Boards, how I remember the 75th Anniversary celebrations of Newtown School, which he chaired, in the middle of last summer’s heatwave, and I arrived late for the celebration of an outdoor Mass. Driving from Maynooth to Newtown, my satnav directed me to Newtown in Fenagh rather than Newtown in St. Mullins! When I arrived Pierce, Fr. Eddie Aughney and Fr. Tom Little were doling out paper cups of water to the sweltering congregation. He enjoyed my conversation with the altar servers that evening when in the school classroom we were vesting in, I noticed the clock had stopped, so I contested to them I wasn’t late at all!
His teaching interest in recent years didn’t confine itself just to the Primary Sector, his visits to Duiske College and Borris Vocational School were also important. All of this built on the back of his time as Diocesan Advisor to Primary Schools from 1971-1988, working alongside Sr. Kathleen Delaney and Sr. Bernie Breathnock. Nine of those years he served on the staff of Carlow College, St. Patricks. These were the days before Mater Dei and Maynooth College could produce enough RE teachers for the Post Primary Sector. Pierce along with others from the catechetics departments of the diocese and the college, planned, organised, advertised and ran five very successful ‘two year extra-mural diploma courses in religious education’ in St. Patricks, courses that contributed hugely to the upskilling of teachers in both primary and secondary schools around the diocese. He lectured seminarians at the college, focusing especially on the Primary School syllabus, introducing them to the simplicity and beauty of the Eucharistic Prayers for Children. The greatest lesson they all heard was the value of being present with people, being present in schools, in clubs, in halls. For Pierce, being present was key.
While he loved each of his parish appointments and spoke to me in recent times of his earliest days in Wolverhampton. He could as easily have spoken of Clonegal, Monasterevin, Prosperous or here in Muine Bheag where he was Parish Priest for ten years, he loved each parish and returned regularly for funerals of friends or responding to invitations for tea or supper. He had enduring friendships in everyone of those parishes. Pierce loved an outing, a lifetime pioneer, he loved sweet things and desserts whether they loved him is an entirely different question! There is the story told of his return to Monasterevin in recent times, the wife was out, the husband was ensconced in front of the TV watching Manchester United play. The husband told Pierce he was most welcome to stay but he’d have to endure the premiership match. Pierce lasted ten minutes. He was more into the narrative and story rather than watching a flat screen. “Where you will go, I will go. Wherever you live I will live”.
There is also the story of a Council of Priests Meeting in Bishop’s House around twenty years ago and a small group had been deputed to research the entitlements priests might receive on retirement. The group duly reported and Pierce asked “would he be entitled to receive the entitlement if he went to live with his sister?” showing the affection Pierce had for family and his sister Veronica. There was silence in the room after Pierce’s question. Bishop Larry looked to Msgr. John Byrne to offer a response, as he was serving on the sub-committee. John broke the silence with the reply: “Pierce, you would be entitled to the same entitlement, whether you went to live with your sister or anyone elses’ sister!”.
Yesterday evening as Pierce reposed in the gentle arms of Ballinkillen Church, I met people from Beechwood Nursing Home, from Gahan House, families who could attest personally of this man’s pastoral outreach and embrace. While he celebrated Mass regularly in both places, the lingering around over the lunch or the tea was most remembered. Nothing delighted Pierce more than conversation, and despite his more serious demure at times, he had that great gift of thinking outside the box, for him nothing was out of bounds and yet still the teacher in him, knew for many letting go isn’t easy. The greatest act of ‘letting go’ is the moment of death itself.
From his poem ‘Resurrection’, first printed in his 1996 book of reminisces ‘Moments When the Light …’ and reprinted in his 2016 celebratory work, marking his Golden Anniversary of Ordination, aptly called ‘Golden Years’, I quote:
I died as you sat
in a tomb borrowed
for Sabbath reasons;
I long for people,
people who will dare to
love to that degree of
that nails one to a cross.
I burst from the guarded tomb,
to invite a companionship
among all the lonely people
who pray and live in separate worlds.
means “Tombed loneliness”
where bitterness, anger, hate
blasted and freed
in new opportunities
activity that spells a
Of course, Pierce in many respects was not alone last Thursday night as he let himself go into the arms of Our Lord around 10pm. Just a short time earlier his very faithful housekeeper Margaret Mary, Eleanor, the Parish Secretary here and the former secretary Sharon had all been with him. And earlier still his sister Veronica and some of her family. Pierce was never without friends and we can be sure the Lord whom he had great faith in, was with him that night too as he slipped into eternity.
 Ruth 1:16
 Murphy, Pierce: ‘Golden Years’, 2016, pg. 163; Murphy, Pierce: ‘Moments When The Light …”, 1996, pg. 35