Rev. James W. Murphy

Summary of Case: James W. Murphy's assignment record (see below) matches the allegations of several Davenport survivors, who say that a "Fr. Murphy" from Memphis abused them in group sex sessions with Janssen, Bass, and Geerts, and also molested Iowa boys visiting a Memphis parish and traveling to Florida for vacations. See especially the account of a Davenport boy allegedly abused by a Fr. Murphy in a Memphis rectory in 1963. Rev. James W. Murphy trained at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis (as did Janssen and Bass), was ordained in 1948 (as were Janssen and Bass), and worked in 11 Tennessee parishes (7 as pastor) from the Mississippi River to the Great Smoky Mountains. He was also a college and hospital chaplain and a priest at a Minnesota retreat center that offered youth programs. has received an anonymous report that the Diocese of Memphis has identified James W. Murphy as the Fr. Murphy of the Davenport documents, and that the diocese is investigating the allegations.

Ordained: 1948
Seminary: Kenrick Seminary, St. Louis
Incardinated: Nashville 1948-70; Memphis 1971-2004

Start Stop Parish Town State Position Comment
1948 1952

Sacred Heart

Memphis TN Assistant 3/4. The pastor was Rt. Rev. Msgr. Louis J. Kemphues, who was the diocesan dean of Western Tennessee. Other assistants included Rev. James J. Driscoll, Rev. Thomas F. Cashin, and Paul J. Hostettler. Murphy was incardinated in the Nashville diocese, which included Memphis until the Memphis diocese was created. The Sacred Heart elementary school enrollments went from 359 to 336 in these years; the high school had went from 222 to 191 pupils. All the Memphis parishes in this assignment record were in the Nashville diocese until 1971, when the Memphis diocese was established. See map.
1952 1954 St. Thomas Memphis TN Assistant 3/3 Enrollment in the parish elementary school in these years went from 410 to 437; high school enrollment went from 64 to 78.
1954 1958 St. Thomas Cookeville TN Pastor 1/1 Murphy was also responsible for "stations" in Clay, Cumberland, Jackson, Overton, and Putnam counties. This parish was in the Nashville diocese when Murphy worked there, and continued to be in the Nashville diocese as the Memphis diocese (1971) and the Knoxville diocese (1988) were established. See map.
1955 1958 St. Charles Eastland TN Pastor 1/1 Attended by Murphy from Cookeville
1958 1963

Immaculate Conception


Union City TN Pastor 1/1. The picture is of the new Immaculate Conception, built while Murphy was pastor. Parish school had 30 pupils when Murphy arrived, and was closed after the 1959-60 school year. This parish was in the Nashville diocese until the Memphis diocese was established in 1971. See map.
1958 1963 Church of the Holy Cross Paris TN Pastor 1/1 Attended by Murphy from Union City
1963 1966 St. Anthony of Padua Memphis TN Pastor 1/1 Enrollment at the parish grade school went from 247 to 202 while Murphy was here. The school was closed in 1967, and the historic African-American parish was closed in 1968.
1966 1968 Our Lady of Fatima Alcoa TN Pastor 1/1 Alcoa is at the other end of the state, in what would become the Knoxville diocese in 1988. Until then, it was in the Nashville diocese. See map. There was a parish school, with enrollments going from 103 to 84.
1968 1974

St. James

Memphis TN Pastor 1/1 Murphy's incardination changed from Nashville to Memphis when that diocese was erected on 1/6/71. When Murphy arrived, the parish school had 139 pupils. It seems to have closed after the 1969-70 school year.
1974 1979

Our Lady of Sorrows

Memphis TN Pastor 1/2. Assistants were Rev. David M. Foley and Rev. C. Frederick Sauer. The parish school had enrollments of 480 to 400 during Murphy's tenure.
1979 1982

Christian Brothers College

Memphis TN Chaplain When Murphy arrived, the co-ed college had 1,154 students. The presidents were Bro. Bernard LoCoco and then Bro. Theodore Drahmann.
1981 1984 Baptist Memorial Hospital and Methodist Hospital Memphis TN Chaplain of Out-of-Town Catholics An article in the diocesan newspaper states that Murphy held this unusual office for 14 years, but only three Directories list him with this title: 1982, 1983, and 1984.
1982 1992

Christian Brothers College

Memphis TN Brothers' Chaplain Soon after Murphy's chaplaincy was restricted to the brothers themselves, he seems to have moved his residence to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (see next entry). Rev. David B. Knight became the student's chaplain.
1983 1985

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Memphis TN In residence. Rev. William J. Kleiser was the rector, and the other priests at the cathedral were Rev. William J. Parham and Rev. Joseph W. Umphries (the latter also in residence). James F. Stafford was bishop of Memphis at this time (1982-86), before he became archbishop of Denver and then a member of the Vatican bureaucracy. In the 1984 and 1985 Official Catholic Directories, which state Murphy's residency at the cathedral, he is listed and indexed as J.W. Murphy. In other years, before and after, he is listed as James W. Murphy. The shift in location within the index was about 12 column inches. The cathedral school had 329 and then 200 students at this time.
1984 1985

Baptist Memorial Hospital

Memphis TN Chaplain  
1985 1988

Sacred Heart

Memphis TN In residence. Pastor was Rev. Thomas D. Kirk.  
1987 1993

VA Medical Center

Memphis TN Chaplain, solo and then with Rev. Mark Geary O.P. in 1992-93.  
1993 1994         Not in the 1994 Directory.
1994 1996

Christian Brothers' (Dunrovin) Retreat Center

Marine-on-St.-Croix MN Retired, but worked at the retreat center Murphy's retirement address in these years, 15525 St. Croix Trail N., Marine-on-St.-Croix MN 55047, is the same as the retreat center in the St. Paul and Minneapolis archdiocese. In the 1996 Directory, 8 priests are said to be in residence, with a total of 12 on the staff. Bro. Charles Kelly was the administrator of the center. He is the only one named, but an article in the diocesan newspaper says that Murphy worked at the center "for several years." Harry J. Flynn became archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis on 9/8/95, after serving as coadjutor archbishop under John R. Roach.
1996 2000 Mainstreet Lodge Minneapolis MN   An assisted living facility at 909 Mainstreet, #308. It is not clear whether Murphy worked at the retreat center in these years; the lodge and the center are 35 miles apart.
2000 2002 Ave Maria Home Memphis     A nursing home at 2805 Charles Bryan Rd., Memphis TN 38134.
2000 2002 St. Peter Manor and St. Peter Villa Memphis TN Sacramental Minister This appointment is not listed in the Directory, but it is described in an article from the diocesan newspaper.
  2005 Villa Vianney Cordova TN   Retired priests' home.

Source: Official Catholic Directory (New York: Kenedy, 1949-2002); Davenport documents. If James W. Murphy is "Fr. Murphy," the following Davenport documents allege abuse by James W. Murphy:

Note: The Official Catholic Directory aims to report the whereabouts of Catholic priests in the United States on January 1 of the Directory's publication year. Our working assumption is that a priest listed in the Directory for a given year was at the same assignment for part of the previous year as well. However, Kenedy and Sons will sometimes accept updates well into the year of publication. Diocesan clergy records are rarely available to correct this information. The Directory is also sometimes misleading or wrong. We have tried to create an accurate assignment record, given the source materials and their limitations. Assignment records are a work in progress and we are always improving the records that we post. Please email us with new information and corrections. This assignment record was last updated on 5/11/05.

This assignment record collates James W. Murphy's career history as it is represented in the Official Catholic Directory and several media reports with four allegations against "Fr. Murphy" as they are reported in the Davenport documents. We make no representation regarding the truth of the allegations we report, and we do not identify James W. Murphy as the perpetrator. But James W. Murphy appears to have been the only Murphy working as a priest in Memphis at the time "Fr. Murphy" is alleged to have abused Davenport boys. He is also the only priest named Murphy who was working at a parish in the city of Memphis when a Davenport boy was allegedly abused by a "Fr. Murphy" in a rectory in the City of Memphis.

We remind our readers that in the U.S. judicial system, a person is considered innocent until proven guilty. Even if James W. Murphy is publicly identified by victim(s) as the same "Fr. Murphy" who abused the Davenport boys, he would be considered innocent until such time as a jury finds him guilty.

Priests in a Parish: We use the following convention to show a priest's place among the clergy of a parish: 1/2 means that he is the first priest listed in the Official Catholic Directory (usually the pastor) and that there is a total of two priests at the parish. The shorthand 3/4 means that the priest is listed third on a four-priest roster.

Tennessee Dioceses: Until 1971, all of Tennessee was in the Nashville diocese. Memphis was split off in 1971, and Knoxville in 1988.