Murphy Faculty Conference Room Re-Dedicated

When Irish-American short story writer and novelist Mary Lavin was interviewed by English Professor Catherine A. Murphy's students in 1967, little could they have known how important their exchange would become to scholars of Lavin's work. 

Those who gathered in Sullivan Hall on Friday, October 11, for the memorial re-dedication of the Catherine A. Murphy Faculty Conference Room learned of the importance of “Mary Lavin: An Interview,” which was published in 1979 in a special Lavin issue of the Irish Literary Review. The crowd of students, staff, faculty, and friends, some coming from as far away as New York, Connecticut, and Cape Cod to honor Kate Murphy’s memory as a teacher, scholar, and friend, proved too large for the conference room named for her, so participants and guests moved into a classroom across the hall.

Guest speaker Dr. Maureen O’Rourke Murphy, an internationally acclaimed Irish Studies scholar who teaches at Hofstra University, and Kate Murphy’s sister-in-law, told the audience that the “Merrimack interview,” as it is known, records one of the few times when Lavin spoke about her craft.  Lavin’s image of “an arrow in flight” to explain her imaginative process has become central to an understanding of Lavin’s works, according to O’Rourke Murphy, whose presentation also gave the audience a delightful sense of Kate as coach of Merrimack’s winning College Bowl team, fiction writer, teacher, and lover of people and Border Terriers.  For the re-dedication ceremony, O’Rourke Murphy provided the original typescript of the taped interview, transcribed and edited by Kate and reviewed by Lavin. Kathryn Geoffrion Scannell, director of McQuade Library, accepted the typescript for inclusion in the library’s collection from Dr. Steven Scherwatzky, chair of the English Department who hosted the event. O’Rourke Murphy remarked that preparing the transcript was particularly difficult, as Kate would tell her, because there was so much joyful laughter in the exchange between Lavin and the Merrimack students. A copy of the typescript is included in the Lavin Archives at Trinity College, Dublin, where Kate Murphy received her Ph.D.  

The ceremony also included remarks and a reading from his own creative work by Bud Jennings, a 1985 Merrimack graduate, and one of Kate Murphy’s best creative writing students. Jennings triggered memories of Kate, ranging from her ever present cigarette and cup of coffee, to her good humor, and commitment to her students with whom she remained in contact many years after they had graduated.  “As far as we knew, [Kate] didn’t live an exotic life, but she could turn a story about walking her dog into a mock-heroic tale of a Celtic queen and her trusted hound,” Jennings, who teaches English at Methuen High School, told the audience.  He also recounted  a chance encounter he had with Lavin when he was a student studying abroad in Dublin, an encounter he described one day to Kate’s delight under the “nicotine canopy” in her office.  Later, encouraging him to apply to the famous Breadloaf Writers Conference, which she had attended, Kate made her point directly: “[To be a writer] you really have to drink on a porch with other writers.” Jennings concluded his remarks by reading from his novel In and Out of Paris, in which his protagonist arrives in Paris in 1940 on the day of the Nazi occupation of the city.  

Completing the formal part of the ceremony was a reading once again of “October Roses,” a poem written in memory of Catherine Murphy by her friend Ian Blake for the original room dedication in 2003. Blake–journalist, archaeologist, teacher, and award-winning poet–resides in the Scottish Highlands.  A close friend of Kate’s from her days at Trinity College,  Blake presented the English Department a beautiful copy of the poem in his own hand for the re-dedication. The elegiac poem was again read by Dr. Kevin M. Plunkett of the English faculty. Rev. Kevin F. Dwyer, OSA, Professor Emeritus of Religious and Theological Studies, and a longtime colleague of Kate Murphy, provided a closing blessing, asking that those who use the conference room that bears her name “come to right decisions and to fruitful outcomes for all their endeavors.” Dr. Geraldine Branca of the English faculty, who was responsible for organizing the memorial event as she had previously in 2003, introduced the speakers. Christine Neel, a senior English major from Methuen and one of a number of students who attended the event, remarked that the ceremony “brought Dr. Murphy’s spirit to life,” and allowed her another chance to hear her “amazing” former teacher, Bud Jennings, speak and read from his work.

Hanging in the Murphy Conference Room is a large photograph of Catherine Murphy. The photograph pictures her with one of the Border Terriers she had come to love and breed. The citation speaks of Kate Murphy as a dedicated teacher, warm and helpful colleague, and loyal friend.  Included in the overflow crowd for the re-dedication ceremony were many of Kate’s friends from the Northeast Border Terrier Club, which she helped to found; Martha Heinze, who was staff to the English Department and to Kate as department chair for many years; and Michael Rossi, a member of Kate’s winning College Bowl team and former dean of Liberal Arts.  Looking over the audience O’Rourke Murphy, in a tribute to Kate, read a passage written by Irish poet William Butler Yeats: “Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, / And say my glory was I had such friends.”   A reception in the English Department office suite, supported by Liberal Arts Dean Kathleen Tiemann, followed the ceremony.   [GSB 11-6-2013]  


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