Biographies

Sister Johanna Marie Murphy, MM

Born: July 6, 1909
Entered: June 5, 1933
Died: October 17, 1996

In life, many people cross our paths. Some stay for a while, leave deep imprints on our hearts, and we are never the same again. Our Sister Johanna is one of those whose loving memory will remain long in the hearts of Maryknollers.

Sister Johanna suffered much throughout her Maryknoll life. The evidence of how well she coped is in the record of her many wonderful relationships. After one particularly hard time, in a letter dated January 12, 1990, she found the courage to write the following lines to her friends and relatives: “Only God knows why suffering comes to us. It must be to purify us and get us ready for residence in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Sister Johanna was ready when her hour came at 3:30 in the afternoon of October 17, 1996. Sister Irene Solzbacher was with Sister Johanna when she died. Sister Irene continued to talk to Sister Johanna and to pray aloud with her. At a given moment Sister Johanna opened her eyes wide and as she took everything in. Sister Irene told Sister Johanna that she was on her way to God. Her face lit up, she closed her eyes and went to God. She was 87 years old and had been a Maryknoll Sister for 63 years.

Johanna Marie was born in Brooklyn, New York, on July 6, 1909 to Ellen Jones and Patrick Murphy. She was one of eight children, four boys and four girls, four of whom survive her. She attended Grammar and High School in Brooklyn, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Augustine’s, respectively. She then took a Commercial Course at St. Joseph’s School in Brooklyn and worked for eight years at a large firm on Wall Street before coming to Maryknoll. She was held in high esteem by her employer, Mr. Wendell Wilkie, although he could not quite understand her leaving a successful career to become what was to him, an unknown entity called “missionary nun.”

Johanna Marie entered Maryknoll on June 5, 1933. She was accompanied by her entire family – parents, three sisters and four brothers. They arrived in the midst of preparations for a big party to honor the newly consecrated Bishop James Anthony Walsh, co-founder of Maryknoll. Her parents were delighted with the festive spirit they encountered at Maryknoll. Her father, who had apparently harbored some doubts as to the wisdom of his daughter’s choice commented as he left, “Any outfit that takes my daughter into the convent after 6 p.m. can’t be that bad.”

Johanna Marie’s loyalty to her family of origin was proverbial. Many Sisters still recall her stories about her father’s days on the police force and of her brother Patrick, the famous Police Commissioner of N.Y.C., to say nothing of the fun-filled visits Johanna enjoyed with her sisters, her sister-in-law, and her many nieces and nephews.

At Reception she received the religious name of Sister Mary Helena. She made her First Vows on January 6, 1936 at Maryknoll, New York. For her, it was a matter of special pride that it was the newly consecrated Bishop Francis Xavier Ford who received her vows and gave her the Maryknoll ring. She made her Final Vows on January 6, 1939 in Fushun, China.

In 1938, after working almost two years in the Field Afar Offices, she was assigned to Korea. She had been there only one year when, for health reasons, she was re-assigned to Maryknoll, New York. For most of the next fifty years, she lived out her mission call through her extraordinary secretarial skills at the Maryknoll Society Center. The list of Maryknoll priests with whom she worked stands out as a Maryknoll Father’s – Who’s Who. She appreciated each one’s particular gifts and had a good story to tell about each of them.

In 1963, Sister Johanna spent time in Valley Park, Missouri and in Chicago. While in Chicago she drew on her legendary typing skills to prepare the English and the Spanish versions of “The Family of God.” These materials coming out of the most recent theology of Vatican II, served as a basis in the formation of the Lay Ministers who were being sent out to the parishes to share the good news.

In 1973, she again took up her secretarial work with the Maryknoll Society until 1989 when, she finally retired at 80 years of age. She continued to enjoy her life here at our Center where she celebrated her Golden and Diamond Jubilees as a Maryknoll Sister, much to her delight and ours.

Those who were privileged to live and work with her, tell of the sparkle in her eyes, reflecting the lightness of her humor which they so enjoyed. They also speak of her as a woman of prayer, always so gentle and generous. When she was interviewed by Fr. Gerry McCrane in 1989, she also revealed herself as a woman of hope. Fr. McCrane records that she felt good about Maryknoll and her work, trusting for the future. She said, “We have some great people who are really concerned about God’s work. I know how dedicated they are. Our future is in good hands.” The example of Sister Johanna’s perseverance in faithfulness is a great resource for us now as we strive to carry the vision of Maryknoll into the future.

We welcome the family members who are here with us today, her brother, Patrick the Police Commissioner, and his wife,  her sister,  her nieces and nephews, all of you who were her beloved relatives and friends. We extend our sincere sympathy to each one of you and also to her brother and sister Mary who were not able to be with us today. We welcome our Maryknoll brother, Fr. Frank Meccia, one of the “Who’s Who” to celebrate the Liturgy of Resurrection.