The fact that only six Americans have reached sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church isn’t getting in the way of a local group’s determination to make a Valley man the seventh.
Miles Jesu — a Romebased, international institute for lay Catholics that began in 1964 in Phoenix — has collected about 90 percent of the 5,000 signatures needed in the initial steps to make Paul Murphy a saint.
Murphy, an architect who lived a pious layman’s life for a decade at Miles Jesu in Phoenix, died of a brain tumor in 1976 near downtown Mesa at age 36.
Miles Jesu is driving the canonization effort because the faithful, especially the laity, sorely need an impeccable model, said Miles Jesu’s general director and founder, the Rev. Alphonsus Maria Duran.
"Today there are so many deviated idols and models proposed for our young people to imitate," said the close friend and mentor of Murphy. "I feel an obligation in conscience to make Paul Murphy’s virtues known."
Pope John Paul II’s unprecedented zeal for conferring sainthood on pure and devoted humans would seem to give the Murphy candidacy a greater chance, although it’s still a long shot.
This papacy has been called the "sainthood factory" because, during his 25 years as pontiff, he has canonized 477 people and beatified 1,343. That exceeds the total so sanctified by all previous popes. Just 302 saints were designated during the previous 500 years.
Still, the process takes a long time and, even if this pope has a predilection for making saints, his age, 84, and his declining health possibly work against it taking place any time soon. Murphy’s cause could be left to the actions of future popes with their own priorities.
Of some 2,000 active cases for sainthood in the Vatican files, a small number come from the Americas, with nearly half being Italian and a quarter of them French.
Among the best-known Americans whose names are under study for such distinction are pioneer TV homilist Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen and Knights of Columbus founder Michael McGivney.
SOLDIER FOR JESUS
Miles Jesu volunteers have about 4,500 petitioners in support of the man who was described as "cheerful, humble, competent and helpful," the embodiment of the Miles Jesu ideal as a "soldier for Jesus."
With the required number of names, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, head of the Phoenix Catholic Diocese, would have evidence of Murphy’s "fame of holiness" affirming that he spent a pious life that merits a deeper investigation by the church under the guidelines of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Olmsted would appoint a "postulator" for the first phase, or diocesan inquiry, to begin building the case with evidence from Murphy’s life, including his writings and proof of at least one miracle for beatification. Proof of two miracles are needed for sainthood.
If the long, scrutinizing procedure goes forward, it could lead first to beatification for Murphy, and perhaps canonization as a saint, something attained by about 6,500 throughout the history of the Catholic Church.
For the Rev. Christopher Foeckler, the priest of the Miles Jesu community in Phoenix, Murphy embodied a Catholic layman who selflessly dedicated his life to Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
"Everybody that comes to know Paul sees that he was a holy man," he said. "We just wanted to present it to the church, and we are very optimistic that the church will take it to investigate."
Miles Jesu has produced a 60-page book, "Paul Murphy — Soldier of Jesus," compiled by Bridget LeBeau, with photos, a biography, testimonials and stories from those who knew him.
The youngest of nine boys in a Chicago family, Murphy was known as the "joy of the family." He served as an altar boy and was strong at sports and a practical jokester. Two of his brothers, including his twin, Jim, became priests. He grew to be a 6-foot-2, blond extrovert with a wide smile and a quick wit.
Whether there ever will be a "St. Paul de Phoenix" or "St. Paul The Architect," the exercise itse lf is reintroducing, especially to the diocese, a life that went into a high gear of saintly living after he took advantage of an invitation to attend an intensive, three-day Catholic retreat, or cursillo, in Phoenix in 1965.
Murphy received a degree in architecture from the University of Notre Dame in 1962, then entered the U.S. Navy where his military trade was designing naval buildings. He reached the rank of lieutenant and was still in the Navy, stationed in Spain, when his brother, Don, then of Scottsdale and a member of the newly formed Miles Jesu layman’s community, asked him to take part in the intensively spiritual cursillo retreat. He did so after leaving the Navy and met Duran, who had founded Miles Jesu just the year before.
"It was quite a pivotal point in his life because Paul was a good, active, strong Catholic practicing young man with two brothers in the priesthood," Foeckler said. "He wanted to serve God, but he thought there were two options, one was to be a priest or to get married, be a layman and have a family."
He chose neither.
At the cursillo, Murphy learned about a third option — "the idea of consecrating himself to God" and taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. He abruptly ended a relationship with his Chicago sweetheart just days away from their engagement.
MILES JESU LIFE
"Saying goodbye to his money and possessions," he took his vows at the midnight Mass on Christmas Eve 1966 in the chapel of Miles Jesu.
For the next nine years, he lived at the institute, drove an old car, worked for private architects, enthusiastically shared his faith at cursillos and traveled widely on behalf of Miles Jesu. Among his religious and secular projects was designing the round chapel and stained-glass window at Mount Claret Cursillo Center, dedicated in 1969.
"You couldn’t help being attracted to this fine young man who exhibited the kind of attitude and character that related so beautifully to people," said Mary Ziegman of Tempe, whose late husband, Richard, led the fund-raising for that chapel.
Richard’s word about Murphy are recorded in the "Soldier of Jesus" booklet: "As cool, clear water is to the thirsty and food to the hungry, you could not seem to get enough of Paul. He loved life and made all of us enjoy it more."
Ziegman recalled asking Murphy, as he suffered from his terminal illness, what he thought of God. "It’s not what I think about God that is important; it’s what God thinks of me," Murphy responded.
"He was friendly to everybody and was generous in giving a helping hand if someone needed it," said Don Christiansen, brother of the late Valley architect George Christiansen of Scottsdale, for whom Murphy worked. "Most of his income went into charitable purposes through the cursillo where he lived."
CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE
Murphy had a seizure and passed out during an architect’s meeting in Tucson in February 1975. A deeply embedded cancerous tumor was discovered.
When doctors informed him, Murphy’s wisecracked, "It must be a chocolate chip cookie that got stuck in my brain," noting his liking for such cookies.
During his final year, coping with cancer treatments, Murphy remained positive, ever upbeat about his faith, and showing what one priest called a "joyful resignation to God’s will."
Murphy had seizures and collapsed in the chapel on Christmas Eve 1975, the precise ninth anniversary of taking his vows to Miles Jesu in that room. He was moved to a Miles Jesu house for hospice care at 451 E. Franklin Ave. in Mesa where he died Feb. 10, 1976.
"He was a layman, and everyone can identify with him," Foeckler said. "He was a cursillista here in Phoenix and there are thousands of cursillistas. Paul is proof that the cursillo movement produces what it says."
• Born April 24, 1939, in Chicago.
• Graduated with degree in architecture in 1962 from Notre Dame University.
• U.S. Navy officer, architectural design, 1962-65.
• Came to Phoenix in 1965 to attend three-day Catholic cursillo, changing his spiritual course.
• Took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience Dec. 25, 1966, joining Miles Jesu, Catholic lay institute.
• 1966-75: Professional architect, living at the Miles Jesu campus in Phoenix, but traveling internationally for Miles Jesu and standing out as an exemplary, faithful Catholic.
• Designed the Mount Claret Cursillo Center chapel and window in Phoenix, dedicated in 1969.
• Suffered seizure in February 1975 at Tucson architect’s meeting, diagnosed with brain tumor.
• Died Feb. 10, 1976, in Mesa at age 36, with Bishop Edward McCarthy and 14 priests and deacons conducting his funeral Mass.