Archives of an archbishop: School tells story of Thomas Murphy’s life

EVERETT — The son of Irish immigrants, he loved being a Roman Catholic priest. He arrived in the Archdiocese of Seattle in a time of turmoil. During his tenure as leader of Western Washington’s Catholics, he battled leukemia with courage and faith.

Visiting Everett’s Holy Cross High School in 1997, the year he died, Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy told students, “You are a gift that makes my life so much better.” Those students later held a blood drive in Murphy’s honor.

Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy High School, which began as Holy Cross in an old grade school, was built with the help of a $200,000 donation from the Murphy family.

The school in southeast Everett is now paying tribute to its namesake with a comprehensive online archive,, dedicated to Murphy’s writings and life.

The archive, containing nearly 1,000 documents written by Murphy, was launched as part of Archbishop Murphy High School’s website early this month.

Brian Murphy, the late archbishop’s 48-year-old nephew, did the bulk of the work on the archive. Along with homilies, columns and addresses written by Thomas Murphy, the digital library has a time line with photographs and video clips.

The archive might draw wide interest beyond the school from Catholics, people seeking writings on faith or those interested in Irish heritage.

“Thankfully, he was a prolific writer,” said Matthew Schambari, president of Archbishop Murphy High School. Schambari said the vision is for Murphy’s work to be used in curricula, particularly in theology courses, but also that his life will be an example to students. Some alumni remember meeting Murphy, but current students never had that opportunity.

“We want to keep him real and present,” said Schambari, who came to the high school in 2010 and has been its president since 2012.

“That’s part of the reason for the archive’s multimedia aspects. This generation has to see it and hear it. They can see 90-second snippets of speeches he gave to connect with an idea,” Schambari said. “One of the hallmarks of our school is service. Having him as an example, in his own words, is why this matters.”

Brian Murphy, who lives in the former archbishop’s native Chicago, said the idea for the project came about three years ago. Schambari, he said, reached out to the Murphy family and asked how the school could raise awareness of the archbishop’s ministry.

The project was an initiative of the school, funded with the help of the Murphy family and other private donations, Schambari said. Much of the material in the archive is used with the blessing of the Archdiocese of Seattle, he added.

The archive covers three periods, starting with 1972-1978, when Thomas Murphy was a Chicago priest and rector of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary. From 1978 to 1987, Murphy served as the bishop of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, Montana. Murphy came to the Seattle in 1987 and served as archbishop of Western Washington’s largest Christian community from 1991, when controversial Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen retired, until his death at age 64 in 1997.

His arrival in Seattle followed several tumultuous years when Vatican leaders cracked down on the maverick and liberal Hunthausen by bringing in another bishop to supercede Hunthausen’s authority. Murphy first served with Hunthausen as coadjutor archbishop in Seattle, a job The New York Times described as “something between a consultant and a watchdog.”

“When he came to Seattle, people thought he would be so far to the right,” Brian Murphy said. “People quickly realized my uncle was a moderate in the church.”

Brian Murphy has wonderful memories of an uncle who was like a second father. “My uncle had two siblings. His sister, Eileen Frey*, is the youngest. My uncle was the middle child, and my father, Bart Murphy, was the oldest,” he said.

Describing his uncle as a humble, devout man, Murphy said the archbishop was “a huge believer in Catholic schools.”

“One of the most vibrant parts of his ministry was his interaction with children, teens and young adults. He was up on current movies, and was a big technology geek,” Murphy said.

In the last year of his life, Murphy said, his uncle was asked by a reporter what his illness had taught him. “He said it was the opportunity to walk the talk, to have faith in God.”

“He truly loved the church. He truly loved being a priest,” Murphy said.

Viewers of the archive learn that every Catholic bishop has a coat of arms, each with a motto. Archbishop Murphy’s motto was “In Christ Joy and Hope.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460;

Murphy archive

Archbishop Murphy High School has launched a digital archive containing nearly 1,000 documents, including homilies, addresses and columns, written by Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy. The school was named for Murphy, who served as archbishop of the Archdiocese of Seattle from 1991 until 1997. View the virtual library at

*Correction, Oct. 13, 2014: Eileen Frey’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this article.

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