Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Farewell to a class act

I just found out that one of my absolute favorite college professors, Fr. Frank Murphy, passed away at age 71 on Aug. 28.

Although I was about as likely to be a history major as I was to study rocket science, Father Murphy made every Western Civ class I took fascinating and fun, all while narrating with the most endearing, soft-spoken New England accent. In and out of class, his sense of humor was evident, and he took as much interest in his students as he did his curriculum.

I took Father Frank's classes for two straight semesters early in my college career, including a smaller discussion group that met once weekly. After class one day, Murphy pulled me aside and encouraged me to volunteer to read books for the blind, citing my "mahvelous voice." A few jokes later, we forged one of my strongest student-teacher bonds.

After that second semester's grades were turned in, he invited me and two of my classmates and friends, Conor and Ethan, to an Italian restaurant. The three of us, with a common sense of off-beat humor, clicked with Father Frank and dinner was no different as we exchanged jokes and anecdotes.

I would talk with Father Frank whenever I saw him around campus and would visit him in his office during the occasional break between classes. We'd talk baseball, travel and the future, about which he was always the most optimistic for me, even when I had my doubts. I distinctly remembered one moment in which I was reluctant to take his compliments and he deadpanned, "That's the Irish in you." My Irish-American mom and Italian-American dad got a kick out of that.

During the graduation ceremony for some 2,000 graduating members of the Class of Arts & Sciences in 2000, Murphy was one of many to hand out the fake diplomas, but by complete chance -- perhaps divine intervention -- he was also the one to hand me my replica with a wide smile.

I kept in touch with Father Frank for the next couple of years over the phone, and he always had time for me. When I lost his phone number, I unsuccessfully tried to reconnect with him through Boston College. I was more disappointed when I realized I couldn't find him in the phone book, either. But because of our previous chats, whenever I had doubted myself, I knew there was at least one person outside of my family who believed in what I could accomplish, personally and professionally.

My friend Jeff, who had Father Murphy as an advisor and recommended him to me as a professor, e-mailed me today to tell me the news of his passing. I took it much harder than I thought I would, especially as I realized all the ways The Murph had looked out for me in the last decade.

I will miss his faith that extended way beyond religion. I will miss his quiet jabs at my beloved Yankees. And I will miss a man whose greatness could easily be best measured by the way he made his friends feel, even if they happened to lose touch.

It's been four years since our last and undoubtably fun conversation, but Frank's own "mahvelous voice" will resonate with me forever.