Father Murphy honored for 65 years of ministry
By TIM WENZL and DAVE MYERS
At the March 22 Chrism Mass, Father Ultan Murphy was celebrated for 65 years of service as a priest.
At the reception to follow, he told those gathered that prior to he and the other Irish transplants first making their way out to the newly formed Catholic Diocese of Dodge City, he was told how beautiful it was on the prairies of Southwest Kansas: expansive fields of grain wafting like waves in the wind; fields of cattle paying tribute to the economy of the region; and good farm folk eager for the Good Word.
“When we arrived in Dodge City there was this massive cloud of dust. I turned to the others and said, ‘What the hell have we gotten ourselves into?’”
The large crowd erupted into laughter.
In 2014, Father Murphy, then 87, retired after 33 years as pastor of St. Ann’s Parish in Olmitz. At the time of his retirement, he had the distinction of being the oldest active Catholic pastor in the state of Kansas.
Father Murphy was appointed pastor at Olmitz and Holy Trinity, Timken, in 1980. He served both parishes for 23 years until he announced his retirement earlier in 2003. He reconsidered, and his responsibilities were reduced to the Olmitz parish at that time. His official title also changed to “parochial administrator.”
“I’ll do what I do now,” Father Murphy said in 2014, “Say Mass every day, visit the sick, just fill in if I’m needed. They’re not going to miss me. No, I’ll be here; I’ll be around. I don’t go home to Ireland any more. My nieces and nephews come over here every few years. No need for me to go. With communication now, it’s just like being there — almost.
“After having served these people, I can say without any reservations, they’re just good people. All solid people, many from Eastern Europe, who brought the faith with them and kept the faith and are doing their best to pass that on to their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. I’ve seen it in all of my 33 years.”
When asked about his happiest memories, Father Murphy responded: “The happiest part of my ministry has been many converts – marriages – getting people back to the Church. I’ll probably miss visiting the kids in the classroom on Sunday morning. That was one of my better things to do.”
Father Murphy resigned the pastorate at Olmitz with this simple advice to the parishioners, “Stay the course and believe in God and say your prayers. Take your children to Mass and make sure your children go to religion class.”
Father Murphy was ordained June 7, 1953, by The Most Reverend John Staunton, bishop of Ferns, at St. Peter’s Seminary, Wexford, Ireland. He was recruited for the Diocese of Wichita, but was transferred to the Diocese of Dodge City by agreement of Bishop Mark K. Carroll and Bishop John B. Franz. He has served under all six of the bishops who have shepherded the Diocese of Dodge City.
Father Murphy’s assignments include: assistant pastor at St. John, Hoisington, (two terms); and St. Rose of Lima, Great Bend; and pastor at St. Mary’s Loretto; St. John’s, Kiowa; St. John, St. John, and St. Francis, Seward; Holy Rosary, Medicine Lodge, and St. John’s, Kiowa, all prior to his appointment at Olmitz and Timken.
Father Anselm Eke, MSP, resident pastor at St. John the Evangelist, Hoisington, was assigned to the additional pastorate at St. Ann’s, Olmitz.
When the diocese divided, priests’ parishes left to the luck of the draw
During a 2010 visit to the Priests Retirement Center, Irish priest Father Eugene Kenny, explained how the newly ordained were divided between the dioceses. “They did that at the dining hall of the rectory of the (Wichita) cathedral. I remember that room, all right. There were eight of us.
We met Bishop Carroll and picked cards out of a biretta. Some say it was the biretta of Archbishop Strecker, who was chancellor at the time. The cards said either Bishop of Wichita or Bishop of Dodge City. The four who drew Dodge City were Father (Ultan) Murphy, Father (Andrew) McGovern, myself, and Father Kieran Murray.
“(Msgr.) Pat Leahy, God love him, and (Msgr.) John Cody arrived and took us to Dodge City, and we met Bishop (John B.) Franz … and that’s the way it was. I still have the card I drew out of the hat.”
Father Kenny then opened a file, pulled out a card with well-worn corners. “It is very simple, just a postcard. It defined the destiny of a young man,” he said with a hearty laugh.