Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Fr Theophilus Murphy OFM

Over the past few months I have had the time to do a lot of research into my family tree, and one of the more interesting ancestors that I have is Fr Theophilus Murphy. When I was growing up, there were many mentions of a "Fr Theophilus" and "Rhodesia". I have vague memories of him calling to our house in Ballingate. 

Edmond Murphy was born in 1928 and grew up in Newmarket, Co Cork. He was my Grandfather PJ O'Loughlin's first cousin, making him my first cousin twice removed. When he joined the Franciscans in 1946 he took the name Theophilus. He was ordained a priest on 23rd May, 1954 and within a few of months was on his way to the Missions in Northern Rhodesia (modern day Zambia). His brother Patrick (Fr Hugh) was already a missionary in N. Rhodesia. He was just 26 years old, and he would spend the next 52 years in Africa.

In those days, Franciscans were only allowed home every eight years. So, it would have been 1962 at the earliest that he could come back to Ireland, and visit our house. It happened that the previous Christmas that my grandfather presented our house with a picture of the Sacred Heart, which still hangs in the kitchen in Ballingate to this day. At the bottom of the picture is a dedication to the Sacred Heart to my parents Phil and Joe, plus myself, my brother Joe, and sister Kathleen (my youngest brother Brian was born after 1962). Though very faded, you can make out the signature of Fr Theophilus Murphy. A nice, if distant, connection with my cousin.

Fr Theophilus served in many locations in Zambia, and also served three terms as Religious Superior, responsible for the lives and welfare of the friars in Zambia. His postings in Zambia were as follows:

Sichili 1955 to 1961
Mangango 1962 to 1968
Lukulu 1968 to 1973
Lourdes parish in Mongu: 6 months in 1978, 
Nalionwa (Kalabo): 2 months in 1978;  
Mangango, most of 1979 
Senanga 1980 to 1983
Malengwa 1985 to 1988
Sioma for 6 months in 1989
Malengwa for 1990
Mangango 2000 to 2006

Fr Theophilus retired in 2006 to the Holy Trinity Friary in Cork, but sadly died suddenly later that year (7th Oct) while preparing for Mass. I would love to have met him and hear about his times in Zambia. Today's generations will soon forget that Theophilus and many young Irish men and women became missionaries all around the world.

Fr Theophilus Murphy.
(Photo courtesy of Fr Noel Brennan OFM)

Fr Theophilus (2nd left) with Kenneth Kaunda
(centre), before KK became President of Zambia.

(Photo courtesy of Fr Noel Brennan OFM)

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