Farewell to Professor Murphy

Frederick J. "Rick" Murphy, longtime religious studies professor at the College, died this fall at age 62. As the news spread among the alumni family, former students wrote to Holy Cross Magazine with poignant memories of their mentor and friend. If you have an essay or note you'd like to see added to this tribute, please email hcmag@holycross.edu

Goodbye, Professor

I was a freshman when I took Professor Rick Murphy's course on the Old Testament. I often wore my Yankee hat to class (the class was very early in the morning on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays...) and at times he'd like to provoke a little of my Jersey attitude. We talked politics, Seinfeld, and how much he loved the Patriots and how much I hated the Patriots. He knew how to engage his students, including those who found the material dry or even controversial in terms of their faith. He inspired some so much to the extent that they continued to take courses in the department or pursue a graduate degree down the road.

When I wasn't in one of his classes, I still sought his advice, much in the same way a daughter seeks out a father when she cannot see past immediate obstacles or has trouble evaluating difficult decisions. When he became ill, we joked about the ill effects of steroid therapy and discussed our experiences within the healthcare system. He never once let on as to how sick he felt or how frustrated he was with his progress with different therapies, yet during these conversations he did seem more vulnerable. He would tell you that when it comes to talking about these types of things, he's an old school Irish Catholic who isn't too keen on opening up. But sometimes he did open up when it wasn't about politics or sports, he had compassion and a good ear, as much as he may not want to admit it.

Well, there may be one time when I possibly pushed his buttons. During the final class of a seminar on the historical Jesus, I asked him what he believed in light of all the biblical scholarship that may (not always) challenge some of our core beliefs. He said, "well, that's quite a question," laughed a little, and then redirected the conversation. Maybe he thought it was too personal, but my guess is that he did not intend to influence the faith or convictions of his students. That, to Professor Murphy, was not his role in the classroom.

Many of Professor Murphy's former students and friends were on his mailing list for updates. I have hundreds, and I mean hundreds, of e-mails from him over the years. Dare I ignore a critical development in the world or moment in our country's politics, and then comes a flood of reminders from a certain e-mail from holycross.edu. The last e-mail update I received from him was on August 30. I suppose that for some of us these e-mails served as assurance that he was feeling well, or at least, well enough to continue to engage in conversation with his followers.

On September 4, I sent him a quick note expressing how excited I was to start graduate school and how thankful I was for being a student of his while at Holy Cross. I inquired about his daughter's wedding, where his son opted to go to graduate school, and in general, how he was doing. A few days passed without hearing from him- a feeling began to sink in that this note would remain unanswered.

I went to the Holy Cross homecoming after his funeral, which I'd like to believe he would very much endorse in that we played Harvard and there would be debauchery of some sort on campus. I stopped by his office for the first time in three years since graduating, and for the first time saw his door closed. I wish more than anything that I had just one last chat with him. I hope he knew how much I cherished our conversations, how much I appreciated his compassion, and how much I valued his time.

My memory of Professor Murphy is of him walking in back and forth in front of a chalk board, sometimes stopping at the podium. A reference or two from Seinfeld, a jab or two at conservatives before turning to his lecture. My memory of him is shaped by visits during office hours, sometimes seeing him at a lecture in Rehm, or accompanying him to Hogan in midst of a lively debate. 

There are plenty of "good" people on this earth, but there are few who are exceptional. He was exceptional in every meaning of the word.

Goodbye, professor.

Christina Koutoudis '08

West Orange, N.J.


Guidance on the Journey

I was so deeply saddened to hear of Professor Murphy's passing. He was an outstanding professor and a wonderful friend. His kindness, empathy, intelligence, generousity and humor provided me guidance on my academic as well as personal spiritual journeys. I still think of his wise words today when my faith wavers. My heart and prayers go out to his family.

Cara Sivils Riley '02

Drexel Hill, Penn.


Shocked and Saddened

I was shocked and saddened to read about the passing of Prof. Murphy in my Holy Cross email earlier today. A 2006 graduate, I was a religious studies major and a member of the Student Advisory Committee for the Religious Studies Department. More importantly for this email, my fourth year I had the pleasure of creating a one-on-one course with Prof. Murphy regarding the synoptic gospels. My first year, he taught the religious studies courses for the FYP program. His students all raved, and I was determined to meet this man and take a class. My third year I took Introduction to the Old Testament with him and quickly learned what they were talking about. Based on that experience, I set my mind to creating a seminar with him and ultimately he agreed to help me form one on the gospels.

Each week, he and I would meet in his office for a couple of hours and discussed various topics on the three gospels, their applicability to ancient times, modern times, the Old Testament, the New Testament and, inevitably, our own personal lives. That seminar was more reading and more work than almost any other class I took in my four years on the Hill, but it was one of my most memorable. He taught me how to think, how to write, how to hone a critical eye. But what he really taught me was self-confidence, a new understanding of my view on academics and that sacred book and the ability to really delve into anything I work on. I can say with confidence that Prof. Murphy knew more about the gospels than I will ever forget. But I certainly will never forget him.

Caitlin LoCascio-King '06

Auburn, Maine