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From French Polisher to Roman Secretary

An interview with Christy Murray on Nov, 10, 2005

First published in Interfuse

Interfuse: I was amazed when I found out that you were born in 1912 – on February 29! You are one of those special people.

Christy Murray: Yes. A birthday only every four years.

That’s why you have lived so long, probably! Sure you’re only 23 years old! 1912 – that was before the First World War. Have you any interesting memories from those early days?

I can’t really say I have. I didn’t start school until I was nine.

Was the school in Dublin?

Yes. I didn’t go to Junior School. I went to a med Miss Ryan on the Berkeley Road, and only spent a year there. Otherwise I got taught until I was nine at home. And then I went to the Christian Brothers in St. Mary’s Place near the Black Church.

How many years were you there?

All my school life – until I was 14 or 15. I did the exam for Bolton Street Tech and got a scholarship there. So I was there for a couple of years, catching up on some of the things I was short on in my education. I got a scholarship for two years, but I didn’t stay the two years. I went as an apprentice to a trade. I was a French polisher.

A French polisher! That’s very interesting.

I worked for seven or eight years at French polishing before I entered the Society.

So you were a late vocation?

Yes. I was 27 when I entered. One of the things I decided was that I must qualify in something before I enter religious life. It was a planned thing, you know, and then I was interviewed in Gardiner Street by the Provincial there. When I went to Emo I wanted to feel that, if I didn’t like what I met with there, I could go back to the trade. As well as being a qualified tradesman I was an official in the trade union.

Was Gardiner Street your church, or how did you come into contact with the Jesuits?

No, Berkeley Road was my parish church. But I went down to Gardiner Street to have an interview. Since I was thinking of entering the religious order there, I had to be interviewed by a Jesuit, so that’s what brought me to Gardiner Street.

And you met the Provincial. Who was the Provincial then?

I don’t remember. I thought at that time that it was the Superior of Gardiner Street who interviewed me.

You went to Emo in 1936, and finished your novitiate about 1939. What was your first assignment?

My first assignment was to Rome. I was sent directly to our head house in Rome. I was secretary to the Assistant General – the English assistant.

So, instead of polishing wood you were writing letters.

I had to learn to use a typewriter there. When I was sent out I hadn’t any experience of doing secretarial work. So in Rome they had to give me time to learn how to use a typewriter, and so on. I remember that well because I felt very awkward then, arriving. And, you see, I couldn’t come back from Rome because I arrived in Italy the day that country entered the war alongside Germany, so there was no question of coming back.

So you spent all the war years there. And when you went there the General was Fr. Ledochowski. He died during the war.

Yes. He died the second year I was there.

I see. And then you had Father Janssens.

That’s right.

It must have been interesting knowing both of those men. Any memories of those times?

Well, I can’t say I can remember clearly now, but the fact was that I found them both very encouraging. I was doing a type of work I had never done before and they were giving me time to get used to doing it. There were fifteen assistants – general assistants. When I arrived I didn’t know anything about typing or anything like that and they gave me time to learn it. It was a Canadian brother who taught me.

You were there till the end of the war. And then in 1946 you came back to Ireland. Had you been away all seven years without coming back?

There was no question of coming back. I was locked in Italy. I was one of the enemy, so I couldn’t travel. And, of course, there wasn’t any question of Mussolini giving permission to anybody but himself. It was a hard time, because we hadn’t enough to eat. We were living on Vatican territory. The Curia of the Jesuits was on Vatican land. When we stepped outside of the house we were in Italy, but when we were in the house we were in the Vatican. And therefore, the police couldn’t come into the house to arrest anyone. Once you stepped outside the hall door you were officially in Italy, but once you remained in the house you were a Vatican citizen.

What kind of work did you do in Ireland when you came back at the end of the war? Were you in Gardiner Street?

Yes. I was in Gardiner Street. Brother Priest was the sacristan there and I was his assistant.

Brother Priest?

That’s right. A funny name, but I found him very good. He helped me along.

You were assistant there. And did you stay in Gardiner Street for many years?

To tell you the truth, I forget.

You didn’t go to any other place? Were you in Gardiner Street for the rest of your days?

I forget the sequence, but I know I volunteered to go to Zambia.

Oh, so you went to Zambia?

Yes. It was the time that Father Corboy was made bishop. I knew him in his noviceship. Later he became Bishop Corboy. I volunteered to go because I had secretarial experience.

So you volunteered to work as secretary to Bishop Corboy.

That’s right. I spent fifteen years in Zambia with him.

And that was secretarial work, too.

Yes. I was in Rome at the time I volunteered to go to Zambia. I had a chat with the General at the time that Bishop Corboy was created bishop, and I had a chat with the General about going and joining him. He invited me to go and do the same kind of work as I had been doing.

You went back to Rome on a visit and when you were there you talked to the General about going with Bishop Corboy?

Yes. I was appointed to Rome at the time. I had been in Rome a number of years. It was my second time in Rome.

Oh, you went back a second time, after the war?

Yes. I was invited back.

That was after time as assistant sacristan in Gardiner Street?

That’s right.

That was a good few years afterwards because Bishop Corboy didn’t go until well into the 50s. You had quite a few years then in Zambia, did you?

I had fifteen years there. I got leave every five years – this is how I know. I just got leave once in five years…

Back to Dublin?

I was on my third leave back to Dublin when someone else was placed in my job.

I see. And were you then back in Gardiner Street again? You didn’t have any other assignment?

No, not that I remember.

So you’ve had a very varied career – Rome and Zambia and Ireland. And of course you came here to Cherryfield from Gardiner Street, so that was your last assignment there. And how do you find it here in Cherryfield?

The fact of the matter is that I was over 90 when I came here. Actually it was my 90th birthday the day I came in here. The 29th of February. I’ve been here over a year. I’m close to two years here.

And are you comfortable here?

In fact I’m surprised I’m so comfortable, because I had some experience of being in hospital, in care, before. I was in a ward with five or six others. Then I come here and I have my own room. This place is a great idea, I think. We’re really blessed to have this place. We’re one of the few Orders that has a good organised house for the aged.

The changes that have taken place in your time in the Society are tremendous. Especially, there were a lot more brothers when you entered.

Yes. Hadn’t got the same chances, you might say.

They had larger communities of brothers in the society.

Yes. There were a bigger number of brothers then than now. The brothers did a lot of work taking care of the houses and the farms. There were far more vocations then. In fact, it was nearly a fight to get into the Society then. Personally, I think I had an exceptionally happy time in all my years in the Society and in all the different jobs I was doing, and I got a fair amount of travel done.

Would you have a word of advice or a special message you’d like to give to the Province as you celebrate nearly 94 years?

I would like to say that they should keep the Brothers’ vocations in Ireland. They shouldn’t be sent to England. And even if they are few, they’ve a better chance of increasing their number by keeping them at home. I think that parents get preoccupied if they can’t visit them. I remember the impression I got from the first visit from my family in the novitiate in Emo. When I got talking to my mother – six people came to see me – she said that she expected to be bringing me back home, that I really wasn’t a person who was a likely Religious, and she thought she’d be taking me back home. She told me afterwards, “I didn’t expect you to be so happy; I thought you’d be coming back home, that you’d made a mistake”.

But you hadn’t made a mistake.

That’s the thing. I was thinking the opposite – that I was old enough to decide at that point in my life what my future was going to be, because I had already served my time at French polishing and as a trade union official.

You never felt like giving up. You were happy in your vocation.

I thought I was deciding when I was mature enough to decide. I felt that I had made it quite clear that I wasn’t making a mistake. I was surprised when she told me that.

That satisfaction with your vocation seems to have continued over the years.

Yes. When I was working in Rome, for example, everything went so well that I couldn’t believe it.

It’s great to be able to say in your nineties that you have no regrets about the way you chose.

Quite the reverse.

You’re an inspiration to us all. Thank you very much.

First published in Interfuse, Christmas 2005.
Republished here by kind permission of the Editor