by Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A gardener tending his patch might not appreciate its full beauty until he steps back to take it all in.
Now, after nearly 10 years of helping Hispanic ministry blossom across the archdiocese, Father Pat Murphy, CS, can step back, pleased with the rich faith he sees thriving.
Plenty of work lies ahead. But he trusts the ministry will be well cared for after he leaves his post as animator for the Hispanic ministry office on April 1.
Father Pat has been named director of his Scalabrinian community’s 160-bed men’s shelter for migrants in Tijuana, Mexico.
He’s excited about his new assignment, but leaving Kansas City has proven more difficult than he expected.
But just as God opened this door in 2003 when he was wrapping up his years as provincial of his community, he sees a new one being opened for him in Tijuana.
As he celebrated his last Masses at different parishes and attended a host of goodbye parties, he spotted couples whose weddings he had celebrated, or whose babies — some now grade-school age — he had baptized.
Some of the young people who grew up knowing him as a constant figure in their lives have had a hard time meeting his eye — they’ve had tears in theirs.
“When you leave an archdiocese where you’ve worked in 13 different parishes, it’s really hard to say good-bye,” he said.
Fabian and Edith Peña, who are very involved at St. Mary-St. Anthony Church in Kansas City, Kan., have come to know Father Pat as a fixture of countless important moments in their lives — from their wedding to retreats to meals at their home, which meant the world to them.
Although Father Pat’s time was always in demand, when he promised a meeting, he followed through, making everyone feel special, the couple said.
He championed integrity and social justice in the public square, they said, and is passionate about forming strong Catholics.
As a result of his work here, said Fabian Peña, who assists with confirmation preparation, “You know more about your religion. You can speak [about] it better and teach it to your friends,”
Edith prepares children — and their families — for first Communion.
And while their family — which also includes daughter Sarah, 13; and sons Esteban, 7, and Fabian, 5 — is sad to see him go, Edith Peña believes the faith Father Pat planted in people has come alive.
“We’ve always tried to plant seeds,” said Father Pat, “and the seeds that I’ve seen planted have been, number one, in the growth of Hispanic ministry and starting of Spanish Masses in eight different parishes.”
St. Patrick Parish and the Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Kan., both launched Spanish Masses in the past year, and have seen good attendance.
More seeds have been planted in formation.
“We started some really good faith formation courses,” said Father Pat.
And new leaders are sprouting up.
“They’re just stepping up and taking ownership of the ministry and service and wanting to reach out to other people,” he said.
Father Dan Gardner, pastor of All Saints Parish in Kansas City, Kan., has seen the fruits of leadership development classes Father Pat has offered.
“He does it with the Scriptures. He does it with the teachings of the church,” he said. “That needs to continue and grow.”
Father Pat doesn’t take credit for what’s been accomplished — he sees community behind everything.
He spent his final weeks in Kansas City, Kan., working with his successor, Father Livio Stella, CS, who served in Rome for the past six years as vicar general of the Scalabrinian community.
Father Livio has worked extensively with the Hispanic community in Mexico, Guatemala and Los Angeles, said Father Pat.
“He just has to walk with the people and keep them going,” he said. “He’ll add his own personality, his own touch to it, as well.”
And he’ll have the help of Father Jesus Olivares, CS, who serves as the associate in the Hispanic ministry office, as well as other staff.
Father Pat served at the now-25-year-old Casa del Migrante in Tijuana once before, for a short time 20 years ago.
“Our job is to just live out what Matthew’s Gospel says: ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,’” he said.
The center feeds, clothes, and provides temporary shelter, guidance and assistance to 9,000 people a year.
Many of its residents have been deported from the United States, including some who haven’t been to Mexico — or spoken Spanish — since they were small children.
People generally stay a few days.
Casa del Migrante has seen high-profile visitors over the years, including Mother Teresa.
Father Pat is already talking to people in Kansas about mission possibilities.
Area parishes could help his work in Mexico through everything from on-site work projects to collections for basic needs like soap, toothpaste and socks for the guests.
He looks forward to the joys and challenges that lie ahead in Mexico, but Kansas and its people will hold a place in his heart.
Father Pat is sorry to miss out on some of the future developments he sees coming — especially the comprehensive immigration reform the American bishops have been championing for years.
“I feel more confident than ever that it’s going to happen,” he said.
He’s also delighted to see the growth of vocation awareness within the Hispanic community. The Peña family told him they would love to have a religious vocation within their family.
“How do you walk with that family and if there is a vocation, help it prosper and grow and not get lost along the way?” he said is the challenge.
That interest, said Father Gardner, is part of Father Pat’s legacy here.
Father Pat’s work has been instrumental in bringing more people to the church, he said.
“He was always a joy to be around and always very helpful and insightful and had lots of words of wisdom,” he said.
Archbishop Naumann concurred.
“Our Lord has accomplished a great deal through Father Pat Murphy’s priestly ministry here in the archdiocese,” he said. “Under his leadership and hard work, Hispanic ministry has grown dramatically.”
“We will miss him greatly, but will enjoy the fruits of his labor here for many years to come,” the archbishop continued. “And we wish him the best of luck in Tijuana.”