Pastor, Parish: a First Meeting
They're Wondering, He Acknowledges

By Paige Akin
Richmond Times Dispatch
September 5, 2002

The Rev. Dennis Murphy won't know until this weekend how his new parish in Charlottesville is holding up.

"It's hard to know exactly how a parish is feeling when a pastor is removed," Murphy said in a phone interview yesterday from his home in Providence, R.I. "To really pastor a community, you have to look at what people are feeling and saying and doing. At this point, I only know a very little bit about the community."

Murphy, 54, is replacing the Rev. Julian Goodman, who was pastor at Holy Comforter Catholic Church until he resigned in August after admitting to sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy in the 1970s.

Tomorrow, Murphy is flying to Charlottesville to say his first Mass at Holy Comforter and attend the church picnic. He has already written to the parish members to give them some more information about his background.

"They're probably sitting there saying, 'Who are we going to get?'*" Murphy joked yesterday.

Murphy was appointed to the Charlottesville parish by the Most Rev. Walter F. Sullivan, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, who ordained Murphy 28 years ago in Roanoke. Murphy was the first priest ordained by Sullivan after he became a bishop.

Originally from Providence, Murphy has served there as chaplain at the Veterans Administration Hospital for the last seven years, but he's remained part of the Richmond diocese. In Rhode Island, he has performed bedside ministry and has organized spirituality and loss groups on the hospital's psychiatric ward. He also works with grieving families and homeless veterans.

Sometimes he fills in for Mass at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Cumberland, R.I. The Rev. Raymond Theroux, pastor of St. John Vianney, said he'll miss having Murphy around to say Mass once a week and help out around the church. Murphy fit in right away, he said.

"Dennis is very personable and warm, not rigid as far as the liturgy goes," Theroux said. "You just sense his comfort with the people and with what he does."

He also said Murphy is "an excellent singer."

Since his ordination in 1974, Murphy has moved around quite a bit, serving at least five Virginia parishes and the VA hospital in Salem.

Among his favorite appointments was a four-year stint as campus minister at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

"Yale is a very exciting place intellectually and spiritually," he said. "People who are committed to the faith at Yale are really committed and very well spoken. They really understood why they were making a commitment to the religion."

In 1992, Murphy moved back to Virginia to serve as campus minister at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland.

While there, members of Kappa Sigma fraternity asked him to be their faculty adviser. The fraternity had been thrown off campus and needed to get back in line.

"I said, 'Now look - if I'm going to be your faculty adviser, you have to behave.' I told them I wasn't going to their parties," Murphy said.

They agreed and he accepted. Shortly after, they took him to eat at a pancake house and asked him to become a fraternity brother. He went through the initiation ceremony and now is a full-fledged member.

"Now I'm performing their marriages," Murphy said. "But I still won't go to their parties."


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