Rev. Francis Murphy, 87, wrote about Vatican Council

April 17, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Francis X. Murphy, a religious scholar, educator and writer whose inside reporting of the workings of the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s brought him international attention, died Thursday at Anne Arundel Medical Center of complications from cancer surgery. He was 87.

A member of the Redemptorist Fathers and Brothers, Father Murphy had lived since 1985 at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Annapolis, where he was a writer in residence.

Born and raised in the Bronx, N.Y., to Irish immigrant parents, he studied at the Redemptorists' preparatory seminary in North East, Pa., and professed his vows in 1935. He was ordained a priest in 1940, and later earned master's and doctoral degrees in medieval history from the Catholic University of America in Washington.

Father Murphy served as chaplain at the Naval Academy from 1944 to 1947 and with the Army from 1951 to 1958. His decorations included the Bronze Star for "meritorious operations against an armed enemy in Korea."

Beginning in 1959, he taught moral theology at Lateran University in Rome for 17 years and was also an adjunct professor at Princeton and Johns Hopkins universities and Union Theological Seminary in New York. From 1977 to 1981, he was rector of Holy Redeemer College in Washington.

Father Murphy came to international attention in the 1960s while living and teaching in Rome. Already a veteran contributor to the Catholic press, he wrote under the pen name of Xavier Rynne, combining his middle name and his mother's maiden name.

His reports of the Second Vatican Council's at times less-than-collegial deliberations published in The New Yorker caused a worldwide sensation.

"His accounts, filled with historical perspective, insider knowledge, and a political acumen developed in his early years in the Bronx, caused such an international stir that the question of `Who is Xavier Rynne?' inspired articles and poetic musings in the popular press," said an obituary released last week by the Brooklyn, N.Y., office of his Catholic order.

"He was very open-minded and felt that the church ought not keep secrets and [should] be open. With Vatican II, he gave the inside view," said the Rev. Denis J. Sweeney, a Redemptorist priest who is pastor of St. Mary's.

Father Murphy's definitive account, Vatican Council II, was published in 1968 and reprinted by Orbis Books in 1999. He wrote 20 other books and numerous articles using his own name and Xavier Rynne. At his death, he was writing his autobiography.

A Mass of Christian burial was offered Monday at St. Mary's.

Father Murphy is survived by two sisters, Patricia Taylor of Scarsdale, N.Y., and Annabelle Loughlin of Hicksville, N.Y.

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