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Mr. James W. Murphy

Deceased: 2024-04-01

Diocese: ALBANY

Seminary Graduation Year: 1966

James W. Murphy, who died April 1, 2024 at age 83, was well-known throughout his life for being an activist. He will also be remembered for his kindness and compassion.

The Schenectady native ministered to his local community for nearly two decades as a Roman Catholic priest before leaving the clergy to marry his wife, with whom he would have celebrated four decades of marriage this year. Even after leaving the priesthood, he continued to serve.

“He was a unique and wonderful man,” said his wife, Faye Tischler. “He was an activist priest. He got involved with a lot of issues involving people in Hamilton Hill and, of course, there was also the Vietnam War going on at the time. He was very active with groups that were trying to end the Vietnamese War.”

Murphy’s activism was very important to him, Tischler said.

“When I met him, he felt like his mission in life was to save the world,” she said. “And he always stayed pretty much the same, that’s what he wanted to do. Even when he left the priesthood, he remained a devout Catholic. His faith was important to him. He really missed being a priest, but he always told me he never regretted leaving.”

Murphy was born Nov. 11, 1940. He attended St. John the Evangelist School on Union Street, Christian Brothers Academy in Colonie and Ottawa University, before continuing his studies in Rome. He spent four years in Italy from 1962-1966 and was part of the Vatican II class. He was ordained at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

Murphy was a priest for 18 years before he decided to leave the priesthood to marry Tischler in 1984.

Tischler, who was also born and raised in Schenectady, said Murphy may have even been her family’s paperboy when they were younger. She said they ran in similar social circles and were often at the same dinners or parties.

“He lived on the corner of Hamilton and Summit in Schenectady, and I worked at Washington Irving School,” Tischler said. “So I would drive up the Summit Street hill every day, and he would be standing out on the corner with a cup of coffee, just waving at people as they went by. And I thought, ‘Oh, he’s waving at me.’ Come to find out after we were actually married, he wasn’t waving at me. He waved at everybody. It wasn’t personal at all.”

Throughout his life, Murphy was a deeply involved activist. In 2003, he retired from his job as an administrator with the Center for Community Justice. He had also worked at the jail as a prisoner advocate, was a part of the New York State Catholic Conference and its Criminal Justice Committee for many years, Tischler said.

Murphy was also heavily involved with Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE), a grassroots organization which fought for prison reform. In the 1980s, Murphy was involved with the Freeze Movement, where he and others worked to slow down or stop the spread of nuclear testing and development. He was also the executive director of the New York State Coalition for Criminal Justice, Tischler said.

“He was very interested in prison reform, and he was always anti-war,” Tischler said. “He was a very strong pacifist.”

Murphy served as chaplain at Union College and, for a time in the early 1980s, was on the Schenectady County Legislature

Mabel Leon knew Murphy for 55 years. They were close friends and even neighbors for a time.

“I knew Jim as a dedicated activist for peace and justice issues,” Leon said. “He was someone who worked very hard finding alternatives for incarceration, and alternative sentencing, and he had a job where he worked against capital punishment.”

Murphy did not do the work for the praise or accolades, Leon said. She noted Murphy’s obituary earlier this week was fairly short, and did not mention his activism because that was not why he did all of his work. He put his life into action, Leon said.

“He was very much a street priest,” Leon said. “Not only ministering through his church roles. He was the chaplin at Union College, [and] he was there through the very tumultuous demonstrations against Vietnam.”

“He always had these strong commitments to make a better world, and to fight for those who have the least,” Leon said.

Don Ackerman of Schenectady served on the Schenectady County Legislature with Murphy, and was a good friend of Murphy’s older brother Tom.

“He was one of the most outgoing, friendly people you’d ever want to meet,” Ackerman said. “He was always in great spirits, and his Irish humor was classic.”

Ackerman said that James Murphy was never full of himself, and was one of the most principled people he has ever known.

“He was very involved in the anti-Vietnam War protests, and I think that’s one of the things that led him to leave the priesthood,” Ackerman said. “He was a real social activist and wanted to be able to do what he needed to do.”

In addition to his activism, Murphy was also physically active and did a lot of traveling. He and his wife were long-distance bikers.

“We biked across the U.S. and Canada, and up the East Coast, and in Croatia and Ireland, ”Tischler said. “We did a lot of long-distance biking which he really loved.”

Friends and relatives are invited to pay their respects Thursday from 10 to 11 a.m. at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, 231 2nd St. in Scotia. A Memorial Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m., followed by interment in Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Niskayuna.