Msgr. Dennis Murphy's leadership in Catholic education recognized

  • April 29, 2010
Msgr. Dennis MurphyFormer Prime Minister John Turner, environmentalist David Suzuki and former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin all share something in common with long-time Catholic educator Msgr. Dennis Murphy.

They have all been honoured with a National Leadership Award from Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School in Guelph, Ont. On May 3, Murphy joins the impressive list of the school’s past honourees. He will also be the first clergy to receive the award.

Murphy, 75, said he was surprised by the award because he retired from the Catholic education scene about eight years ago.

Our Lady of Lourdes has been giving out National Leadership Awards since 1991. The idea originated with history and politics teacher Joe Tersigni, who said the program brings national leaders to talk to students about the meaning of leadership.

As for choosing Murphy, Tersigni said Murphy has had a distinguished career in Catholic education in Ontario, including his numerous educational posts and having been the author of several books and essays on the importance of Catholic education, including Catholic Education: A Light of Truth published by Catholic Register Books.

“There are so many new threats to the existence of the Catholic education system and the monsignor is a staunch defender. I think he is a beacon of hope for our kids that this is important,” Tersigni said.

On Catholic education, Murphy said it appears that the firestorm of controversy over faith-based schools might not come up in the next provincial election in 2011.

“It would seem that from a political point of view, none of the parties want to start challenging the right of Catholic schools to exist, so I rather doubt that the next election will be problematic for Catholic schools at all,” he said.

But he acknowledged that public funding for Catholic schools “has always been a bone of contention from the start.”

“The best way to safeguard (publicly funded) Catholic education is to make sure that the contribution that Catholic education makes is not only to Catholics but to the public life (as well),” he said.

Among the highlights during his educational career, Murphy points to the development of curriculum and programs from all disciplines, not just in religion, which “speak of the wonder and value of Christianity and the wonder and value of all human beings.”

Currently, Murphy is chaplain of the Sisters of St. Joseph at their motherhouse in North Bay, Ont. This new role has been rewarding, Murphy said, because many of the Sisters have worked as teachers and made a significant contribution to Catholic education.

Murphy was the founder and first director of the Institute for Catholic Education in 1986. He was a member of Ontario’s Royal Commission on Learning which studied the province’s publicly funded education system and made recommendations on the future direction of elementary and high school education in Ontario.

In the late 1960s, Murphy served as the director of the National Office of Religious Education for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. In 1977, he served as trustee on the Nipissing District Catholic District School Board. He also served as chaplain of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association from 1966 to 1984.

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