Father Peter Murphy’s Ordination was a quiet affair because of Covid-19 restrictions but one filled with joy nonetheless.
It was an Ordination with a difference. Social-distancing requirements had made sure of that, with just 16 people present in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of the Metropolitan Cathedral on Sunday 28 June. Yet it was an Ordination as special as any other, studded with those moments that are pocketed in the aftermath and prized for years to come.
For Father Peter Murphy, the newest priest of Liverpool Archdiocese, one such moment occurred during Archbishop Malcolm McMahon’s homily. ‘Because it was a smaller Ordination,’ he relates, ‘sitting in front of the Archbishop during the homily was like a moment of realisation: “Oh, I am here, and he is there, and this is happening”.’
Happen it did, and come the finish, another of those moments arrived. ‘Archbishop Malcolm invited people to give me a round of applause and because of the acoustics of the cathedral, that round of applause circulated around and it almost felt as if the cathedral was full. As I came down from the altar and looked at this intimate gathering in a small area, I felt a real sense of going out into the wider Church.”
It is at the Cathedral that Fr Peter will begin his life as a priest, and Archbishop Malcolm, who concelebrated with Bishop Tom Williams, offered the following advice in his homily: ‘What you have to offer is Jesus, nothing more and nothing less – by looking straight into the heart of the person you can be the occasion of an encounter with the Lord Jesus. This will happen in your priestly life, not in any mechanical way but in deeply personal moments when you preach, when you baptise, give absolution, anoint the sick or witness a marriage between two followers of Christ.’
A quiet joy
When Fr Peter said his first Mass subsequently, at St Cecilia’s in Tuebrook on 29 June, he took on to the altar a simple message from Father Dominic Risley – to ‘just enjoy it’. The sense of joy at his Ordination the day before had been quiet but certain. Owing to the Covid-19 restrictions there was no ‘kiss of peace’ – the embrace usually offered by fellow priests as a gesture of welcome – but instead ‘a profound bow’ from Archbishop Malcolm in his direction. ‘There was an intimacy in that moment, spiritually if not physically.’
Fr Peter’s father James, mother Mary – a Maths teacher at All Saints School in Kirkby – and sister Sarah were there and so too a number of priests who had helped him along the way, including Canon Brian Coyle, his rector at St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, who travelled up to ‘perform the “giving away ceremony”’ as he puts it. The priest who ‘vested’ him, meanwhile, was Fr Conor Stainton-Polland, ‘another priest who has encouraged and inspired me’ – in this case when he spent his fourth year as a seminarian at St Matthew’s and St Cecilia’s parish.
Also present were Fr John Poland, taking the role of MC; Fr Ron Johnson, the diocesan vocations director; Fr Philip Gregory, episcopal vicar of the clergy; and Fr John Heneghan, who was Fr Peter’s priest when growing up at St Marie’s, Southport. Now 29, he reflects that it was as a pupil at St Mary’s College in Crosby that thoughts of the priesthood first began to take root. ‘I first started thinking about becoming a priest maybe when I was 15.’ The school’s annual mission week left its mark. ‘That opportunity of being able to go to Mass every day for that week brought me closer to the Lord in the Mass and so that was a significant moment,’ he explains.
Coincidentally, the priest who led that mission was Fr Stephen Pritchard, with whom he spent the recent Covid-19 confinement period at Our Lady of the Assumption in Gateacre. ‘It’s as if things came full circle during the lockdown. He was an important part of my formation.’ (And would be present at Fr Peter’s first Mass.)
On the course of his vocation, Fr Peter adds that he remained ‘committed to the idea’ while studying Business Management at the University of Hertfordshire. ‘I thought God was calling me somewhere,’ he says, and that call became all the clearer during his post-university year as a pastoral assistant at St John the Evangelist in Horsham, West Sussex. ‘This firmed up the feeling I was genuinely ready to take the next step.’
As a consequence, he began his training for the priesthood under the auspices of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton, at St John’s seminary in Wonersh, just outside Guildford. ‘I started very happily with Arundel and Brighton but then started to realise that while I quite enjoyed living away from home, as most people do in their early twenties, home is where the heart is and so I started to explore the idea of returning to Liverpool.’
He remains grateful to a number of people – St John’s spiritual director, Canon Luke Smith, and rector, Canon Coyle, as well as Bishop Richard Moth of Arundel and Brighton – for smoothing the switch to his home diocese. ‘Thankfully the bishop gave me permission to ask Archbishop Malcolm to accept me as a seminarian for Liverpool and Archbishop Malcolm did, in April 2016, and so for the last four years I’ve been a seminarian for Liverpool.’ It was Bishop Moth who ordained him as a deacon at St John’s last December.
On the challenges ahead, Fr Peter’s duties will include ministering at the Royal Liverpool Hospital – a role, he notes, never more significant than it is today. ‘The hospital ministry means caring for people at their most fraught and sensitive moments – and not just the people in hospital but all of their families. At this moment in history, we’ve had this opportunity to really think about health-care workers and there’s something exciting about being part of a team in that way as well.’
He goes on: ‘One of the most daunting things is knowing the desire to be as helpful and as supportive to people as I can be, but knowing I’m not the finished product and in some ways am never going to be. The daunting aspect of being a priest is that gap between what I’m called to be and what I’m capable of being. But, of course, there is God’s grace to help make up for my inadequacies.’ There is that gap in all of us, and in his homily on 29 June, Archbishop Malcolm pointed to the example of St Peter: ‘It is Peter’s humanity and his weaknesses that inspire us’.
And the Archbishop added to Fr Peter: ‘Remember that even though you may fail in love of the Lord, He never, ever, stops loving you. You can come back to Him and profess your love time and time again – and the specific way in which the Lord responds to that continuing return to Him is not to wallow in your own issues or problems but to feed His lambs and to feed His sheep. This continuous process of turning to the Lord shows expression in your ministry by turning outwards to the poor, that must always be your direction – to the poor in spirit, those suffering poverty, those who are hurting and saddened.’
Words worth storing along with those prized moments.