Deacon Dan Murphy, with his wife, Jean. Deacon Murphy was a member of the first class of deacons for the Archdiocese of Toronto. He died Aug. 21.

Dan Murphy blazed a trail for Toronto deacons

  • August 26, 2014

Updated 08/26/14

Toronto - Deacon Daniel Patrick Murphy was a pioneer in the Archdiocese of Toronto. As a member of the inaugural class of deacons in the archdiocese, ordained a permanent deacon in 1974, he helped shape how the Catholic community perceived its first deacons. He died on Aug. 21, at age 86.

Deacon Murphy was born in London, England, in 1928 and moved to Canada in 1951, living in the Maritimes for some time before permanently settling in Toronto in 1968. His long-time friend, Deacon Tab Charbonneau, met Deacon Murphy in 1972 when the two were in training at St. Augustine’s Seminary. 

“He was my senior deacon and he never let me forget it,” jokes Charbonneau. “I’ve known him for 40 years and we’ve almost lived in each other’s back pocket at times.” 

He described Deacon Murphy as gentle, mature, open, friendly, compassionate and genuinely concerned for the well being of others.

“In those early days, we were the new kids on the block... and a lot of parish pastors and other people in ministry weren’t quite too sure what we should be doing or could be doing.” He said Deacon Murphy went into the parish, but “his main focus was not to be an assistant to the priest or to take some load off the priest.”

Deacon Murphy served Holy Spirit and Epiphany of Our Lord parishes in Toronto’s east end. He served as a formation program mentor and was on a number of committees, including the Outreach program.

“The deacon was a minister of service and was to reach out to the disadvantaged in the community or in the parish, people who were poor, sick, people who were in hospital. Find where they were, what they needed, what was required to help them out and get the people in the pew involved,” said Charbonneau, who recalls Deacon Murphy’s efforts to mobilize parishioners to volunteer at nursing homes and for Out of the Cold programs. He was also one of three key people who started marriage prep classes in in the archdiocese, said Charbonneau. 

Deacon Murphy was appointed Director of Deacons in 1989, a position he held until 2000. For his service, he received the Papal Pro Ecclasia medal from the Vatican and the National Association of Diaconate Directors’ Philbin Award for his leadership and international collaboration.

“He epitomized what the diaconate was all about and he always worked hard to help the archdiocese — parishes, priests, lay people — understand what the diaconate was all about,” said Steve Pitre, Toronto’s diaconate co-ordinator since 2010. “And he helped deacons to understand their role as deacons,” and together with their wives, their role as deacon couples.

“He (Murphy) always came out with things that made you think, and even when I took the position as co-ordinator of the diaconate, he was a big help to me in learning my role,” said Pitre. The archdiocese is losing “a trailblazer and an inspiration.”

Charbonneau recalls Deacon Murphy was instrumental in the decision to replace regional deacon directors to watch over the diaconate with the peer-to-peer mentorship now in use. 

“Each deacon was to find another deacon that he could mentor with, so you kind of keep track of each other,” said Charbonneau. 

He also emphasized Deacon Murphy’s interest in visiting with deacons and their wives and fostering healthy marriages as integral to the diaconate as a ministry. 

“He and (his wife) Jean just epitomized what being a deacon couple is all about,” said Pitre, adding that they were a sign of how a Christian marriage should look. “He and Jean were a team. And he had great respect for her and great love of her.”

Charbonneau and his wife were good friends with the Murphys, and he’ll miss travelling, playing golf, talking about life and generally spending time with his old friend. 

“It’s going to be a hole in my life,” said Charbonneau. “I think he’s up there looking after me, anyway.” 

Deacon Murphy retired from active ministry in 2013. He is survived by his wife, seven children and many grandchildren. 

His funeral Mass was held at Epiphany of Our Lord Church on Aug. 26. He was laid to rest at Christ the King Cemetery in Markham, Ont.

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