Monsignor Murphy 50th anniversary of ordination address.

Introducing the Monsignor Murphy Digital Archive

This story is featured in the spring 2021 issue of Lumen.

The impact of Monsignor Terrence J. Murphy, the namesake of the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law and Public Policy, who served as the University of St. Thomas president from 1966-91, will continue to be felt for generations thanks to a generous gift from his family.

Murphy, who passed away in 2004, would have turned 100 on Dec. 21, 2020. In celebration of this milestone, the Murphy Institute launched the Monsignor Murphy Digital Archive this spring. The collection features Murphy’s original manuscripts; more than 150 sermons, dedications and addresses were digitized.

“The Monsignor Murphy collection is a great addition to and resource for those looking at the history of Catholic higher education and the University of St. Thomas. It also will help the Murphy Institute in thinking through our mission to serve both the university and the public,” said Dr. David Deavel, Murphy Institute co-director, editor of LOGOS Journal and visiting assistant professor of Catholic studies.

“Monsignor Murphy’s model of grateful reflection and intellectually rigorous thought based on the Catholic intellectual tradition and the best that scholarship can offer provides us, at the Murphy Institute and the University of St. Thomas, not only a model but a goal for which to reach. We remain grateful to the Murphy family for making these documents available to us and for their continuing encouragement and financial support for us as we honor and extend the heritage of Terrence J. Murphy.”

Included in the archive are themes of the life and mission of the Catholic Church, marriage and family life, education, and the role of the university. The collection features a combination of typed and handwritten documents with Murphy’s notes and annotations in view, giving the reader a sense of comradery as they accompany Murphy in his writing process. The collection is accessible through the Murphy Institute website, where each manuscript is accompanied by a transcription of the original document.

Murphy’s nephew Greg Murphy ’85, ’89 MBA dedicated much of his free time to digitizing the items he found in a box labeled “Sermons” while helping his uncle move in 2003.

St John Paul II and Monsignor Murphy.

St. John Paul II with Murphy, Robert Strusinski and the St. Thomas Liturgical Choir in the Paul VI Audience Hall in Vatican City, Christmas 1987. The choir was the first American choir to be selected to sing at the Papal Holy Mass of the Christmas Vigil.

The project of digitizing, which took nearly a year to complete, was particularly meaningful for Greg as he recalled, “I remember being deeply moved by what I was looking at, essentially his handwritten legacy.”

In addition to copies of the archive gifted to friends and family of Murphy, Greg recognized the Murphy Institute, a collaboration between the College of Arts and Sciences’ Center for Catholic Studies and the School of Law, as an obvious home for the collection.

“The institute transcribing these works and developing them into an accessible, online archive is a powerful amplification of the labor of love I initially gave the project ... the significance of this collection to our family increases with each passing year,” Greg said. “The fact that much of it is in his own hand is especially poignant to me as it makes his words very personal. Those of us who knew him can imagine his face and hear his voice when we see these documents. The words they contain are so obviously Father Terry – insightful and profound, but in a very approachable way – just like he was in person.”

The archive also features comments made by Murphy on celebratory occasions, such as commencements and anniversaries. Notably, Murphy addressed family, friends and colleagues on the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood with the timeless exhortation, “Good works should begin with the good God and end by leading to Him. We must not get so wrapped up in the good work of God that we neglect the God of good work. That means more attention to the interior life, to purity of motivation, to awareness of God’s grace in all our accomplishments, to a kindly manner that radiates the love of Christ.” These words are exemplary of the dedication that Murphy held to his work while firmly rooted in his priestly vocation.

Murphy’s dedication transformed St. Thomas from a small liberal arts college to a comprehensive university during his time as president. According to a 2004 St. Thomas Newsroom story, during his tenure, St. Thomas:

  • Became coeducational and a university
  • Expanded its graduate programs from one to 13, including its first two doctorates
  • Grew from 2,167 students to 9,120 students
  • Increased its faculty and staff from 257 to 1,324
  • Increased its annual budget from $3.5 million to $84.4 million
  • Opened three new campuses outside of St. Paul

“He was an educational visionary and always grounded by the Catholic identity which so marks, and should mark, every Catholic university,” Archbishop Harry Flynn was quoted as saying in Murphy’s obituary. “I would call him the second founder of the university.”

When he retired, Murphy had the longest tenure of any president in Minnesota. Thanks to the Monsignor Murphy Digital Archive, future leaders can learn from his success.