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Irish missionary remembered for serving Asian Catholics

Father Thomas Murphy's demise is a great loss for people in Asia, says Bishop Stephen Chow of Hong Kong

Columban missionary Father Thomas Murphy served Asian Catholics in Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China for decades

Columban missionary Father Thomas Murphy served Asian Catholics in Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China for decades. (Photo: The Missionary Society of St. Columban)

Published: February 04, 2023 04:22 AM GMT

Updated: February 04, 2023 04:34 AM GMT

Catholics in Hong Kong joined the funeral Mass to pay tributes to Irish Columban missionary Father Thomas Murphy who served Catholic clergy, religious, and laypeople in Asia including Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China for decades.

Father Murphy died on Jan. 8 from age-related illness at the Columban House in Hong Kong and his funeral was held at the city’s St. Joseph Church on Jan. 28, the Sunday Examiner reported. He was 74.

Jesuit Bishop Stephen Chow Sau Yan of Hong Kong presided over the funeral Mass together with Cardinal John Tong Hon, former Bishop of Hong Kong, and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, as well as several Columban missionary confreres and about 25 priests.

Following the funeral, the mortal remains of the priest were flown to Ireland for burial.

In a statement published by Xinde (Faith) newspaper, Bishop Chow mourned the demise of the missionary, who was also known by his adopted Chinese name, Father Chen Fa-yi, as a great loss.

"The passing of Father Chen Fa-yi is indeed a great loss for our local Church and for all the brothers and sisters who met him on the Continent. The zeal, humility and cultural openness with which he pursued his vocation as a priest and missionary arouse admiration,” Bishop Chow said.

“We are convinced that he will continue to support us, interceding for us in the Kingdom of Heaven. And may he be happy forever, in the infinite embrace of the Lord," the prelate added.

During the funeral, many people who knew the priest carried his photographs depicting his journey of life from his early days in Ireland to his final days in Hong Kong.

Thomas Murphy was born in Castlebar of County Mayo, Ireland, on Aug. 3, 1949. He joined the Missionary Society of St. Columban in 1967 and was ordained on April 14, 1974, reported Independent Catholic News referring to his congregation.

He served in parishes in South Korea from 1974-1978. He then joined a group of missionaries known as the Taiwan Mission Unit and moved to Taiwan. He worked in parishes, set up a daycare center for children with special needs, and dedicated himself to the development of laypeople in church activities and missions in Taiwan. He also served as the Executive Secretary of the Office of Laity of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC) for several years.

In 1993, he was assigned to Ireland and played the role of coordinator of the vocations team of the Columbans.

Father Murphy completed an MA in Celtic Spirituality at the University of Lampeter, Wales, graduating in 2000. His interest in Celtic Spirituality led him to deepen his interest in Taoist spirituality. He was always an avid reader, wanting to gain a deeper understanding of our encounter and relationship with God. He loved walking and hiking, and going on pilgrimages came naturally to him. He helped initiate a Columban pilgrim walk from Knock Shrine to Croagh Patrick in Ireland each year so as to arrive for the last Sunday in July to climb the reek (mountain) and say Mass in Irish at its summit. He also enthusiastically supported the development of another Pilgrim Walk, the Columban Way.

Father Murphy served as the Superior General of the Columbans from September 2006 to 2012. During his tenure, he moved the congregation’s Generalate from Ireland to Hong Kong, which was seen as central to the changing context of the order’s mission.

Father Murphy was also involved in the pastoral ministry in Hong Kong, spending much of his time in serving the Filipino community.

The priest learned Mandarin Chinese and made connections with the people in the Church in China. He was appointed to the China Mission Unit (CMU) in August 2013. For years, he taught at the National Major Seminary in Beijing.

Besides, he also traveled frequently across China, offering retreats and recollections from priests, religious, and laypeople.

He was the coordinator of CMU from 2019 to 2021 but was forced to move to Hong Kong in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

From June to December 2022, he was an assistant parish priest at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, caring for the English-speaking community.


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