Holy Cross Remembers Frederick J. Murphy (1949 – 2011)

Frederick J. "Rick" Murphy, a longtime professor in the religious studies department at Holy Cross, an internationally renowned scholar and a prolific author, died Sept. 13, 2011, at 62.


Joining the College faculty in 1983, Professor Murphy was named the Distinguished Teacher of the Year in 2001 and was appointed the first Class of 1956 Professor in New Testament Studies in 2007. His areas of specialty included the New Testament, Hebrew Bible, Second Temple Judaism, Historical Jesus and Apocalypticism. A member of almost every major committee at the College and the chair of many of them, he led the search for two endowed chairs and two deans of Holy Cross.


Professor Murphy was the author of numerous scholarly articles and seven books, including The Religious World of Jesus: An Introduction to Second Temple Palestinian Judaism, which received the Alpha Sigma Nu Book Award in 1991, and Early Judaism: The Exile to the Time of Jesus. His most recent work, Apocalypticism in the Bible and Its World, is scheduled for publication in summer 2012.


Receiving his bachelor of arts degree from Harvard College, Cambridge, Mass., in 1971, he then entered the Society of Jesus. During his seven-year time with the Jesuits, Professor Murphy taught high school, pursued studies at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., received a second bachelor's degree-in divinity-from the University of London and worked among the poor in South America. He married in 1980 and, subsequently earned his master of arts and Ph.D., degrees at Harvard University. Professor Murphy was a graduate of St. John's High School in Shrewsbury, Mass., where he earned the Xaverian Award.


He is survived by his wife, Leslie; a son, Jeremy T.; a daughter, Rebecca M. Murphy McCormick '06; a son-in-law, Sean T. McCormick '06; two sisters; four nephews and two nieces.
The funeral Mass for Professor Murphy was celebrated Sept. 17, at Christ the King Church in Worcester, with Holy Cross Professor of religious studies Rev. William E. Reiser, S.J., serving as presider and homilist; Holy Cross Professor of religious studies Avery Alan-Peck offered the eulogy. A memorial Mass for Professor Murphy took place Sept. 20 in the Mary Chapel at Holy Cross, with College President Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J., serving as celebrant and homilist.


Professor Avery-Peck, who is the Kraft-Kiatt Professor in Judaic Studies and current chair of the religious studies department, offers the following remembrance of his longtime colleague and friend: Rick Murphy represented, perhaps better than anyone else on campus, what it means to teach, to do research, and to offer oneself wholeheartedly to a community such as ours. He was an internationally renowned and prolific scholar and a significant, if always unassuming, presence on campus. But what motivated him was our students and his desire to give them the many tools they will need to make their own marks on the world.


Students loved Rick, and their experience in his classrooms hints at what made him so special to all of us. Nothing was better than simply to hang out with Rick. He knew and loved politics, opera, classical and contemporary music, literature and history, theology. In his 50s he learned to pilot a plane, and in that same period he assembled, by himself, from the ground up, a computer that was years ahead of its time.


But more than all of this, everyone wanted to be around Rick because he had an endless supply of himself to give. I came to Holy Cross 40 years into my life and considerably more than a decade into my academic career. But I learned anew from Rick how to be a colleague, what it means to be a friend, and, in the past five years, I learned from him how a person can confront a devastating illness with such dignity and lack of self-pity as to truly astound.


So we learned from Rick, from his approach to life, from his words, from his ideas and ideals, from his books and articles, but more than anything from the way he lived-an unparalleled life of dignity and integrity that changed us all and that leaves a cherished, everlasting legacy.


Former students of Professor Murphy have also shared their memories of their mentor here.