Fr. William Murphy, 91, was a 'gentleman priest' and a man of deep prayer

Fr. William Murphy, who served as pastor of Our Lady of Refuge Parish in Orchard Lake (1986-2004) and St. Agatha Parish in Redford (1979-86), died Jan. 5 at the age of 91. (Archdiocese of Detroit file photo)

ORCHARD LAKE — Fr. William Murphy was a man of few words, but when he spoke, those around him listened intently.

A faithful priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit for 65 years, Fr. Murphy died Jan. 5 at the age of 91 after a lifetime of quiet, devoted service to the Church.

“He had a lot of wisdom and a lot of accrued experience,” said Fr. Christopher Maus of St. Thomas a’Becket Parish in Canton, where Fr. Murphy served on the weekends during his retirement years. “I found his counsel very valuable over the years. I counted on him for a lot of moral support.”

A quiet man with a wry sense of humor, Fr. Murphy’s unflappable demeanor made a lasting impression on those with whom he served, including Carol Bishop, parish secretary at Our Lady of Refuge Parish in Orchard Lake, where Fr. Murphy was pastor from 1986 to 2004.

At the time, Bishop was seeking employment after leaving her job at a patent and trademark office in Troy and applied with Fr. Murphy.

“My mom was retiring from Our Lady of Refuge, working in religious education, and she said, ‘How would you feel about working for the Church?” Bishop recalled. “She said, ‘You should talk to Fr. Murphy — you could be his secretary.’”

Bishop quickly picked up on Fr. Murphy’s idiosyncrasies and mannerisms, which endeared her to the priest she’d later end up calling a friend.

“He was very regimented,” said Bishop, who began serving at Our Lady of Refuge in 1996. “He ate lunch right at noon, then he’d go for a walk with his hat on. He'd call me ‘Sister Carol’ as he was leaving. He was a pretty scheduled guy, but he’s one of the nicest priests I’ve ever known.”

Fr. Murphy oversaw several improvements to the parish, including the construction of a new church building and family life center. He also built solid relationships with parishioners, and was well-regarded within the community, Bishop said.

He particularly loved being around the students of the parish’s grade school, and enjoyed teaching others about the faith. As a leader, Fr. Murphy made sure parish staff and volunteers felt appreciated, hosting annual Christmas dinners that were “always first class,” Bishop said.

“Every year he had an appreciation dinner for parishioners who volunteered, and it was catered for everybody and their spouses; sometimes there was a band,” Bishop said. “At Christmas time, he would have the staff to his house for Christmas dinner. He was a very nice gentleman.”

Prior to his service at Our Lady of Refuge, Fr. Murphy served as pastor of St. Agatha Parish in Redford from 1979-86.

Ordained June 1, 1957, Fr. Murphy also served as associate pastor of St. Philomena Parish in Detroit (1957-61) and the Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak (1961-65), and as principal of Gabriel Richard High School in Riverview from 1965-74. He worked in the archdiocesan curia as director of evangelization, catechesis and schools from 1974-79.

When he retired from active ministry in 2004, Fr. Murphy continued to serve during the weekends at St. Thomas a’Becket Parish in Canton, where Fr. Maus said his experience was a blessing both to his fellow priests and to the parish community.

Fr. Maus, who was ordained in 1993, said he first came to know Fr. Murphy as a seminarian, visiting a classmate who was interning with Fr. Murphy at Our Lady of Refuge.

“He was always very cultured,” Fr. Maus recalled. “He would talk about the symphony, the opera, and he was always very well-dressed, often wearing French cuffs. He was very proper. The first impression I had of him was that he was very much a gentleman priest.”

A patron of the fine arts, Fr. Murphy would often visit Stratford, Ontario, for the annual Shakespeare Festival, a tradition he very much enjoyed, Fr. Maus said.

When Fr. Murphy retired and came to serve at St. Thomas a’Becket, Fr. Maus said he learned to lean on the older priest’s wisdom.

“He was a man of deep prayer, and he really loved the Church. I would always see him with his breviary, or he would be praying right before or after Mass. He was a man of deep spirituality and he had a love for the Eucharist,” Fr. Maus said.

Fr. Murphy’s quiet, lead-by-example demeanor rubbed off on St. Thomas’ parishioners, Fr. Maus said — and they in turn inspired him.

“He was a pretty simple man. His homilies didn’t tend to be long, but he would always leave the people with a question to ponder for the week,” Fr. Maus said. “He always used to say the people’s faith inspired him, and that helped him in his spirituality.”

Fr. Murphy was born June 24, 1931, in Windsor, Ontario, one of four children of Neil and Shella Murphy. He is preceded in death by his parents, his brother James and his sisters Constance (Paul) Kennedy and Patricia (Kenneth) Crawford. He is survived by many nieces and nephews.

Fr. Murphy's funeral Mass was celebrated Jan. 12 at St. Thomas a'Becket Parish in Canton. His final resting place is in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield.