You really had to be there — at least to appreciate the scene recorded in section 2 of this post, which inspired the lyric at the end of the post, and this memoir of my appreciation for “Fatho Mofee!”

The key players who were there with me were: Act 1, my in-laws and members of two parishes in town; Act 2, my sister’s family, husband and four kids, visiting from our Texas homeland; and Act 3, mostly focused on my workplace, and my late wife’s “last landing.” And the major personality in this post, Father Murphy.

Act 1: Meeting Father Murphy

Father John Murphy was a priest of the Holy Cross Order, and pastor of the Holy Cross parish, the other parish in my adopted home town. He was six-foot-two-or-three inches, wore a constant but understated smile and a hundred-percent positive attitude, and could charm support from anyone with several degrees of subtlety. His parish was spirited and participative. My association with him began as a function of his church adjoining my brother-in-law’s house. Father Murphy became friends with the entire in-law family, and would appear on holiday get-togethers at my Mother-in-Law’s home one town away, just as dessert was being served! An entire new generation of family emerged during the time of his involvement, and would share in enjoying his spirit.

My parish joined his for one major activity: Sponsoring a refugee family from the killiing fields of Laos. I remember the family name Pongvonkeo (but maybe not the spelling). His parish may have sponsored other families also. He once told me I might one day run into three or four Laotian youth with the first name of Murphy. A closer encounter occurred in 1981, a pivotal year in my existence. In between a winter case of at home pneumonia, and a ten week career examination sabbatical with IBM in NYC, in the spring I was invited by a colleague at work to attend a weekend retreat at which Father Murphy would be principal speaker. This “cursillo” retreat gave me several insights into my existence on the planet, and provided one of the few direct “epiphany” moments in my life I can remember. One immediate result was that I put a family photo on my office desk, no longer concerned that my picture with five children might bring me derision at times. It did, but it is whom I was.

A similar cursillo retreat in 1988 inspired a local couple, Jim and Terry Orcutt, after viewing a movie about a homeless single Mother, to dedicate their lives to helping the homeless. With Father Murphy, they founded My Brother’s Keeper, an organization I have volunteered with for 25 years — https://mybrotherskeeper.org/our-history/ . MBK delivers furniture and food to those in need, free of charge, from its two warehouses, with 15 employees and 4,000 volunteers, and for several years have provided over 3,000 families with Christmas celebration assistance. A large Covid-19 fallout for me was being furloughed from my two-half-days-a-week volunteering, with a cadre of fellow retirees and students, but the organization maintained its momentum with strategic safety initiatives, primarily shifting from furniture-centric to food-centric for more emerging needs.

During the Christmas program, with so many entire families involved, Jim would say part of his mission was to educate the younger generation on the amount of need in local communities. I told him it was not just the younger generation he was educating.

Act 2: Meeting “Fatho Mofee”

The catalyst for this entire post was a meeting with Father Murphy when my sister from Texas and her husband brought their four children north for a family visit, forty years ago. Their parish outside Houston was also staffed by Holy Cross Fathers, and one of them suggested they come meet some of their colleagues up here. So I arranged for them to meet Father Murphy, in his new assignment, Chaplain at Good Samaritan Hospital.

The youngest visitor, two-year-old Tara, boldly led the way when I opened the hospital doors. The two-foot-two toddler approached the six-foot-three white-haired smiling priest walking down the corridor. He instinctively reached down to her, and she instinctively climbed into his arms, now topping six feet herself, and announced, “FATHO MOFEE!”

That image inspired the lyric the concludes this post, re-positioned in the time line so as to leave a more cheerful coda. The lyric is a representation of the spirit of Father Murphy’s presence, rather than a documentary of actual events. The only actual event is the introductory greeting, “FATHO MOFEE!”

ACT 3: Praising, Blaming, and Thanking Father Murphy

My last cycle of interactions with Father Murphy were truly a blessing, having him as my personal hospital chaplain while my wife was undergoing her last cancer treatments. Having recently cleared the five year treatment timeline that brought new hope, recurrence of symptoms brought us, slowly, to the last rung of acceptance. Her physician scheduled one last surgery, which he said would not be curative, but palliative, and he would not close the wound so it could heal from inside.

Several family members met with the social services team, and my wife presided. When I asked, “Does this mean there is no hope?”, the response was: “It depends on what you mean by hope.” Driving her to her last hospital appointment, she told me she wasn’t afraid to die, and she expected to still be present, as she remains.

Right before the last surgery, Father Murphy held Maureen’s hand and prayed, “Bless the hands of thy surgeon…” For the rest of her hospital stay, I had breakfast at the hospital with Father Murphy, and every day he had to respond to the same question: “What kind of a cruel joke is this?” My wife had been parish Secretary, and chairman of the RCIA committee that prepared adults for acceptance into the church. During her five years plus of treatment, my sister Mary in Houston was travelling the same journey, with the same cancer. Mary’s was identified three months earlier than Maureen’s, and she preceded (and welcomed) Maureen by twelve days. She had also been an RCIA director, as campus minister at University of Houston (she could preach a homily as well as any priest!). My sister-in-law Anne, another RCIA director, was a twenty-year cancer survivor at that point — now forty-year survivor. She expressed survivor guilt, but I encouraged her to let that go, all survivors are heroic.

Maureen’s grace during these challenges pulled the family through. I was fortunate to have lots of family around, and my biggest challenge was being parent to my youngest daughters, twelve and fourteen years old. Two older sisters and three nearby Aunts provided necessary communications support, while I trudged through a stressful time in the workplace, including my second downsizing, then a technical assignment that was miles over my head, competing with younger experts more adept with detailed trends, several from India and Russia. I was on the defensive, trying to last out a fifth year for full retirement vesting, but I fell short by a year, just as the last semester’s tuition bill was coming due. And Father Murphy was a major participant in my last hurrah, albeit tangential.

A wiser person would have leveled with the boss two years earlier and said this is the wrong job for me, get me out of here, and found a transfer into an appropriate skill level. I wasn’t, and I didn’t. The crushing event was a department-wide weekend recovery exercise, all departments, all locations. I was assigned point person for my department, provide all support needed, without calling the more expert colleagues for help. The comprehensive planning meeting was scheduled for Thursday, the exercise for Saturday. I told the boss I had to miss the meeting for Father Murphy’s funeral. He said he would cover for me and fill me in on Friday. On Friday, he was uber busy, and I wasn’t brash enough to break in and learn what I needed to do, so I figured from the title of the exercise it was what we had done many times before. It wasn’t, and I blew it, and had to call a more technical colleague, and delayed the completion of the project, a major black eye for this organization. My days were numbered, and my pleas rejected to take a lesser title and a pay cut.

My first reaction might have been to blame Father Murphy, but it wasn’t long before I was thanking him. Although I had to coast by the last tuition cycle on savings, I was out of the personally counterproductive environment, and finally landed into the profession I was better suited for: WRITER! Much more rewarding personally, although I probably should have planned on being a compensated writer?

 FATHO MOFEE — the lyric

DARLENE (age 2):  Fatho Mofee – why did my little cat die    

                        Fatho Mofee – Fatho Mofee – why?

                        Fatho Mofee – why did God let him die?

                        Why?  Fatho Mofee – Why?

FATHER MURPHY:                 Why?

                                                Why did God let your little cat die?

                                                That’s a good question!  I’ll try …

            JEFFREY (age 5):  Why did it rain on my birthday?

                                    Why did I get chicken pox?

                                    Why did my cousin hit me …

                                    Just ‘cause I put … bugs in her socks?

                                    Why?  Father Murphy?

            DARLENE:       Why?  Fatho Mofee?

            ALL KIDS:        Father – Murphy – WHY?

FATHER MURPHY:                 You have lots of good questions

                                                I can see there’s more in your eye

                                                And there’s no bigger word in the world

                                                Than three little letters – W – H – Y !

                                                … Let me try …

            BRENDA (age 8):  Father Murphy – Father Murphy …

                                    Why do the boys pull my hair all the time,

                                    When we’re at school every day?

FATHER MURPHY:                 Every day?

            BRENDA:         Yes, every day!

                                    Then why, when I’m trying to be very nice

                                    I smile, and they all run away!

FATHER MURPHY:                 I say!  They all run away?

            BRENDA:         As fast as they can, they run and they fly

                                    Father … Murphy … WHY?

            ALL KIDS:        Why?  Why?  … Why?  Why?  …  Why? Why? Why?

                                    Father … Murphy … WHY

               ADULTS:     Why?  Why?  Why?  …  Why?  Why?  Why?

                                    All day, Father Murphy … WHY?

PETER (age 10):         Father Murphy …

                                    Why does my neighbor, Johnny

                                    Get a new bike every year …

                                    Then come on over, right away

                                    And ask is my rusty old one-speed still here?

                                    Then I go inside … … and hide

                                    And I want to cry

                                    Father Murphy …

            ALL KIDS:        Father Murphy?

            ADULTS:         Father Murphy?

            ALL:                 WHY?

                                    Why?  Why?  Why?  Why?

                                    Why?  Why?  Why?

            DARLENE:       Fatho … Mofee … WHY?

JULIE (age 13):  Why?  Why?  Why?  Why?  …  Why?  Why?  Why?

                                    Father … Murphy … Why?

                                    Why is my sister so beautiful?

                                    And why am I so plain?

                                    Why does everyone think she’s perfect

                                    When I know she’s really a pain?

                                    It’s driving me … insane, Father Murphy

                                    Insane, Father Murphy

                                    Insane!  Insane!  Insane!

                                    Why is she the apple … of our father’s eye?

                                    Father … … Murphy … … Why?  …  Do you know why?

FATHER MURPHY:                 Oh, I know … it’s a crime!

                                                I hear about little sisters … all the time!

                                                And little brothers, too!

                                                But I can see – take it from me –

                                                She’s just as beautiful – as you!          

            ALL:                 WHY?

                                    Why?  Why?  Why?  Why?

                                    Why?  Why?  Why?

            DARLENE:       Fatho … Mofee … WHY?

FATHER MURPHY:                 Let me say, if I may

                                                Just one … thing, or two

                                                All I know is God loves me

                                                Just as He loves each of you

                                                I know cats die, and I know children cry

                                                But I’m sixty years old, and I still don’t know why!

JEFFREY:       You don’t know why?

JOANN:           You don’t know – Why?  Why?  Why?  Why?

                        Why?  Why?  Why?

DARLENE:       Why don’t … you know … WHY?

FATHER MURPHY:                 All I know is God loves me

                                                Just as He loves each of you

                                                And it snows, and it rains, and we have growing pains

                                                But, if we stop growing, we’re through!

            ALL KIDS:        All I know is God loves me

                                    Just as He loves each of you

                                    And it snows, and it rains, and we have growing pains

                                    But, if we stop growing, we’re through!

FATHER MURPHY:                 Yes, if we stop growing, we’re through!

                                                So I say, if I may

                                                Let us pray … let us pray

                                                That we all may keep growing until we die

                                                Even … if we … never know why!

            PETER:           We may never know why?

FATHER MURPHY:                 Even … if we … never know why!

            ALL:                 Why?  Why?  Why?  Why?

                                                Why?  Why?  Why?  Why?

                                                            Why?  Why?  Why?  Why?

                                                                        Why?  Why?  Why?

            DARLENE:       Fatho … Mofee … WHY?