Irish Men behind the Missions – Fr. Eddie Murphy SJ.


“That they may have life” is the theme for World Mission Sunday on 19th October in Ireland this year. Over the centuries, inspired by the founders of the Society of Jesus – Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier – hundreds of Irish Jesuit missionaries have given their energies and lives to improving the spiritual, physical and psychological conditions of people living in impoverished conditions.

In Zambia/Malawi alone from 1946 to 2012, according to Fr. Michael J Kelly SJ, 126 Jesuits from Ireland served for one or more years of their apostolic lives there.

This year the Irish Jesuit Mission Office celebrates the Mission Month of October by sharing the stories of some of those Irish missionaries in its series “Irish Men behind the Missions”. There are many more tales to tell of numerous, dedicated Irish Jesuits working for social justice in developing or conflict torn countries: only a very few are recalled in this series. But their stories are examples of the lives lived by their Jesuit brethren all over the world.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.

Eddie Murphy SJ

Eddie knew from a young age what he wanted to be when he grew up. The priesthood was the road he wanted to take and he never doubted that he was on the right path. Born in 1938 into a peaceful and loving Catholic family in Ballina, County Mayo, he retains a sense of calm and optimism describing his life as “…an unfolding of unusual and fortunate opportunities.”

From boy to man

Upon leaving Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare in 1956, he entered the Society of Jesus. Donal Sullivan SJ was Master of Novices at the time, while serving his term of office as President of the Arts Council of Ireland. He inspired an appreciation of art in the novices under his care: the students gained insights and knowledge outside of the norm. Eddie smiles recalling that when he emerged after the two years of noviceship, a relative remarked he “…went in a boy and came out a man.”

Off to University College Dublin (UCD) then to study Science in 1958. The class number had doubled as a result of a wave of interest in the subject following the success of the Soviet Union’s sputnik – the first artificial Earth satellite. The Space Race had begun! There were 30 scholastics reading across the various disciplines simultaneously, enthusiastic and eager to share their knowledge. Eddie recalls UCD scholastic life as a very exciting time as a result.

Life and languages abroad

Immediately after his final exams and with only a weekend to study French, he left for France to study Philosophy at Le Puy and Chantilly as a Scholastic. It was a very formative period in a cosmopolitan environment, he admits, for a young man from rural Ireland.

Work experience – “Regency” – followed in Zambia from 1964 to 1967 just before the country’s independence. Most schools were for Europeans then although the Jesuits still managed one for Zambians, previously opened in 1949. But as copper mining is an important industry in Zambia, there was an urgent need to educate students in the Science subjects. To prepare for his teaching work, Eddie went to live a traditional lifestyle in the bush and to learn the local Tonga language.

A further four years as a Theology student followed in Ireland, the final year completed in Uganda. It was a wonderful and challenging time to study Theology. He recalls it, “as a time of great change within the Church as a result of the Second Vatican Council that was known for its renewal of Catholic doctrine in a modern timeline and perspective”.

Eddie the Librarian and book lover

Ordination was only six weeks away when Eddie underwent a psychological test to help determine the work he was best suited for – a librarian! No surprise as he has always loved books and spent many hours in libraries. After his ordination in 1970 in Milltown Park, he spent 30 years as a self-taught librarian and set up the first library in the Zambia/Malawi Province while teaching in Lusaka.

On to Hekima College, Nairobi, Kenya in 1983 as the first Jesuit Theolgate there. He remembers that “It was a great team to be on!” He set about acquiring books from Jesuit libraries around the world, writing letters of request and invited to visit some to choose books. Nine colleges in the US and six in Europe contributed generously to his library project. The thriving library of today is built on twenty years of work and now has many books in digital form. Eventually they will be stored in the Cloud.

Eddie identifies a potential problem however in a growing Knowledge Gap between rich and poor. Recognizing this, UNESCO has given developing countries free access to 1,700 online journals. But he believes there needs to be much more access for poorer people to progress towards closing the access to information.

Happy to bloom where planted

In 2004, he was on the move again to Arrupe College in Harare, Zimbabwe, where he still works. Eddie lives in a House of Formation in the college for students of Philosophy from countries all over Africa and considers himself as “the Zambian contribution” to the community. Learn more about Arrupe College here:

This year is a special one; Eddie celebrates 50 years in the continent of Africa. His motto is “…always to be happy to bloom where I am planted!”

October 2014