Father Tom Murray
Holy Spirit Parish is a Catholic Christian community located in the Almaden Valley of San Jose, California. Founded in 1963 by Father Thomas F. Murray, the present church was completed in 1966 and in 1974 the Parish Center was added. In 2000, another dimension was added to our community with the opening of Holy Spirit School, the newest Diocesan school to be built since 1987. In July of 2005, we completed a beautiful gathering area which includes a special garden dedicated to our founding Pastor, Fr. Tom, and a new cross that stands as a testimony of our faith for all who pass by. In September 2007, we received a generous donation of a statue "The Master Thinker" that sits in the gathering area under a majestic pine tree. The statue invites individuals of all ages to pray or meditate in the presence of Jesus.
Tom Murray had a fall, culminating in the discovery of a tumor on his spine; Tom died in Hospice Care (10/13/02). With his death the Roman Catholic priesthood will lose one of its finest, society forfeits a unique human being, and many of us lose a loving friend.
The priesthood that I knew from childhood held its head high and offered distinguished service; we had difficulties and stress over many years changed the personalities of many clerics, yet Tom remained faithful and stable, quiet and strong, gentle and determined, always at the service of the people. Tom Murray touched many lives with goodness; in telling his story I match Tom into my life as friend.
BOYHOOD DREAMS OF LONG AGO SAW AN ALTAR FAIR,
CONSECRETED TREMBLING HANDS LIFTED THERE IN PRAYER.
AND THOSE DREAMS HAVE LED ME ON DREAM LIKE THO THEY SEEM; NOW DEAR FRIEND PRAY GOD FOR ME THAT I BE WHAT I DREAMED."
Candidates who entered seminary at age 13, like myself, more than likely recited LaCordaire's prayer daily from high school to ordination twelve years later. Presently psychologists speak of men like myself as "forever 14", a reference to the immaturity that was sealed in us during our stay in the little City of God, as the seminary was known. Tom Murray had no boyhood dreams of being a priest; having gone to public high school and worked in the world for two years after graduation. Tom came to seminary as a maturing man, bringing a psychological adulthood to a sterile obedient child orientated 1930's clerical training. The routine automated mold of the seminary crushed personal individuality; few survived as human beings and this, in my opinion would be Tom's great cross throughout his whole life. In chosen humbleness Tom hid beautiful human talents so as to be the perfect priest. I often saw him question himself as to genuine human instincts in contrast to what was the way the seminary taught and what the proper priest was allowed. Tom had true Jesus' qualities, which rarely surface in many clerics. His wandering in sermons was a direct result of this constant inner conflict between his genuine human nature and what authoritarian church allowed priests to say. Tom Murray short circuited himself in his official role, yet never was the basic goodness of this man eliminated. The person whom we loved developed in his loving family home. I sat at his bedside the night he died and I told him: "Tom, you have been a great person and a fine priest I call you SARGATHERUNE … which in Irish is GREAT PRIEST". Tom's eyes closed and he shook his head in that denial manner I knew so well. So I softly said again "You have been a great priest; you are a fine person". Tom went to sleep. I had told him the only sin I had ever seen him commit was denial of his own personal goodness.
The Murray family were long settlers of the Fruitvale District of Oakland, which got its opportunity to grow after the East Bay mayor refused martial law in the aftermath of the great '06 Fire and Earthquake; Tom was one of six Murray children, his father a Southern Pacific ferryboat captain. "Ace" Murray (he dreaded the name and this story) was all-city end for the Roosevelt High School football team, and seminary rumor always had it that this handsome star was quite the ladies' man. Tom came home from work one day telling his family he was going to become a priest. I was ten years old when I first met this handsome, smiling seminarian as a counselor in a youth camp in the Russian River. I was impressed by his gentleness and genuine interest in persons; he was friendly to me, a little grade school kid. The Murray family had a cabin in Cazadero, a River village where my uncle was pastor. Little did I realize how our paths would cross in the next sixty years. Upon ordination on September 23, 1944 the Reverend Thomas F. Murray became the associate pastor of Mission Dolores, my home parish; I did not take long to realize that sermons were not Tom's main strength. He would go on from there into hospital ministry and earn an outstanding reputation as a kind visitor of the sick. When I was ordained in 1954 I requested that Tom preach at my first Mass, a triumphant affair at Mission Dolores; clerics questioned me as to my choice for only the elite preachers were usually chosen, and I responded that I choose the man because of his sincerity and genuineness. Tom was for me the ideal priest! I can see him still, erect, proud, gentle, and so sincere; one would have to know the German-Irish Murray parents to realize from where these qualities came. Little did I realize the monumentous involvement with this pastor that awaited me.
Vatican Two turned the priesthood and church upside down and Tom knew something big was taking place, yet with his gentle nature and seminary training he waited in obedience for the bishop's office to lead in the new direction. Seminary trained Tom was old school with a visionary eye. His office at Holy Spirit was piled high with books and magazines concerning this new experience called the people of God and parish reform. Tom loved people and this movement started by John the 23rd was people orientated. The grounds and church building at Holy Spirit parish are a lasting tribute to the selflessness and interest of this genuine pastor. It was the peoples' money and need be spent for the good of the people. In 1967 a strange experience took place in the neighboring parish that would have our paths cross deeply. Tom Murray, like a gentle father figure, became the salvation of my human sanity. (When I kept vigil at his deathbed I saw my father dying.)
People picketed, the old pastor had me thrown out for a sermon on the sacred dignity of the female body, and the Archbishop had a angry and wounded Vatican Two rebel priest on his hands. The bishop was perplexed. Within hours Tom Murray was on the phone to the San Francisco chancery office and his words were firm and powerful. "Archbishop, I want Tom McMahon and I want him now." And so I arrived within days on Redmond Ave., big blue bus and all, a psychologically broken person. Tom's first words of welcome were followed by "Tom, do you need a vacation?" I was on my way to healing after being stationed in four parishes with pathologically sick priests. After my first sermon on the Eucharist as sign of community Tom, with public microphone active, left his presider's seat, walked over to me, took my hand and said "that was the best sermon I have ever heard." Tom was a generous and a non-jealous pastor. My nearly seven years with Tom Murray were a joyful experience of growth and healing as a human person. Tom helped me financially to gain an education in psychology and we talked many hours of reform of the Catholic church and priesthood. Tom always said to me "can't you be patient and wait for change to come" and I would reply: "Tom, you and I and the people are change in process". I will never forget the night when the first Parish Council met; as we left the rectory he grabbed my arm, saying "are we doing the right thing?" I grinned, assuring him with a "let's go." No replacement pastor at Holy Spirit has ever held a candle to him. I saw him angry a few times, once when Bishop Guilfoyle criticized the choir for singing a new "Come Holy Spirit" at confirmation and the other when at a clerical meeting he challenged Archbishop McGucken over the AB's imprudent racial remark. "Man, don't ever cross Tom Murray when you are wrong." I thought to myself.
When the time came for me to be appointed a pastor I knew how vulnerable Tom was as far as his next associate; new minds of post -Vatican Two priests rarely appreciated the devotion of the old time pastors. I resigned from Holy Spirit, opening the doorway for Tom to choose the best of the newly ordained; the nice guy Tom declined seeking special privilege and paid a penalty, while I went off eventually to New Almaden and Christ Our Lord and Brother. The local priests, especially O'Keefe, Murray, Hoffman, and Leininger had many a wonderful Saturday night meal together; we had great fun. In 1980 when I left to take up my family responsibilities Tom was there to back me, always true friend and understanding of my want for a family. In later years Tom and Speed Hoffman came to our home to share happiness; one night when Speed decided to go home, Tom Murray had not finished talking with our guests. Speed walked out in a huff and Murray smiled that beautiful gentle smile and with uplift of his head and side glint of eye said "he'll be back" and Tom, their driver with the car keys, kept on talking. One of Tom's last requests was that he be buried next to Speed. I'm fast running out of my old time priest friends. May they rest in peace and their names held as hallow.
What a pleasure to have known this man; what joy and peace he offered to my life and so many others. I rank him among the all time elite of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, along with Monsignor Henry Lynn and Monsignor Bill Flanagan, men we called "priests' priests", the kind to whom anyone, even priests, would go to confession. The world will go on and I doubt if the seminary of today will produce the likes of Father Thomas F. Murray ... SARGATHERUNE!
...Tom McMahon, with tears. 14/10/2002