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Inuvik's Latin scholar and priest

He came North at an age when many might retire

Lynn Lau
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Sep 10/01) - Rev. J. Pat Murphy is a reading man. The Roman Catholic priest spends every spare moment he has reading and learning.

Father J. Pat Murphy: He enjoys seeing the cultural diversity in the parishes. - Lynn Lau/NNSL photo

"I never turn on the television," he says. "I read and I study."

At the age of 76, he's still going strong, studying Latin, of which he covers a chapter a day.

He says learning, especially languages, keeps his mind sharp, and helps him preach the gospel better.

"You can't preach the gospel very well if your brain is half-asleep," he says.

Three years ago, at an age when most people are thinking about retiring, he decided to come North from his native Saskatchewan. He had read a story in the religious periodical, the Western Catholic Reporter, about the North's chronic shortage of priests.

"I thought that was a shame. I reflected on how conditions were much better in Regina. I prayed it over, thought it over and then I sent (the bishop) a fax and here I am. It certainly has been an adventure."

He was sent to work in Inuvik shortly after he arrived, but a staffing crunch required him to be reassigned to Yellowknife.

The recent addition of two new priests in Yellowknife has finally allowed the Roman Catholic Diocese of the Mackenzie to re-post Murphy here Aug. 14.

In the past six years, Our Lady of Victory parish has been serviced by lay ministers and a few borrowed priests, but no permanent placement, until now.

Murphy has been a priest for 52 years, most of that time spent in Regina and small farming communities.

He says he enjoys seeing the cultural diversity in the parishes here.

"In the parishes I worked in down south, there was never a mingling of the races like you have here," he says. "Up here, you have the coming together of different cultures and I think the way its being done here offers leadership to the whole country.

"It also enriches the preaching of the gospel because the aboriginal people contribute their own way of seeing and experiencing the gospel ... They have a reverence for the land that they bring to their spirituality."

Born in Humboldt, Sask., Murphy was the eldest of five siblings raised by devout Catholic parents. After seven years of seminary training, he was ordained at the young age of 23.

He has always retained a love for learning. In 1976, he completed his master's degree in philosophy and in the early 1980s, he taught university part-time.

He has studied Italian, French, Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Italian is his favourite hobby right now. During his vacation last year, he enroled in language classes in Tuscany.

"It's hard work, but it's exciting. Living in Italy, speaking it, taking classes everyday. "

Of his life's work, he says he most enjoys the constant contact with the gospel. "Studying it, trying to live it, preaching it."

The drawbacks of being a Catholic priest? "The isolation," he says without much hesitation. "And my own shortcomings. "But the work itself is great. Loneliness is not just part of my job. It's part of many walks of life. It's something to be dealt with by many people. I can deal with it, with the help of prayer and keeping occupied."