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Richardson Award to Father Murphy
BY LISA ZAHNER - COLUMNIST (Week of March 26, 2009)

In July, Father Richard Murphy will be honored with the Dan K. Richardson Humanitarian Award. He will accept it reluctantly.

Being honored or even recognized is not something Murphy, a parish priest of 44 years, relishes. He has turned down prestigious awards before in his 12-year tenure at Holy Cross Catholic Church on A1A. Ever humble, Murphy agreed to accept the award from the Gifford Youth Activity Center (GYAC) under one condition:

“I said I would accept it if it would help out their organization and if I could accept on behalf of the people of Holy Cross, the efforts and the generosity of the people of Holy Cross,” he said.

The celebration surrounding the Dan K. Richardson Humanitarian Award helps disadvantaged children in Gifford have a safe place to learn and play, right in their own community.

Over the years, the GYAC has also become a hub of activity for the entire Gifford community, housing classes, meetings, events and even a library. It is the place where just about any program, service, educational or recreational opportunity available to area residents is housed under one roof.

Named after the GYAC’s founder and major benefactor, the Dan K. Richardson Humanitarian Award was inaugurated in 2006 to recognize local philanthropists who embody Richardson’s spirit and dedication to serving and supporting local causes.

Previous recipients have been Bob and Ellie McCabe in 2008 and Alma Lee Loy in 2007. Father Murphy will be the first member of the clergy to receive the award.

Freddie Woolfork, who heads up the GYAC and its foundation, said the selection committee looked at the impact Murphy and Holy Cross have had, especially in the past few years.

“By recognizing Father Murphy and Holy Cross, the purpose of the event is to raise awareness and to show the importance of and the need for people to be of service,” Woolfork said.

Just last year, Holy Cross completed a $5.3 million capital campaign to double the size of the sanctuary at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Fellsmere and to purchase the former North County Charter School adjacent to the church to be used for education.

The mostly-Mexican congregation is the day-to-day mission church of Father John Morrissey and the parishioners at St. Sebastian Catholic Church in Sebastian. That means the Sebastian parish provides financial support, leadership, guidance and personnel to the mission church for the Fellsmere community.

But for the building expansion, help was needed from across the Indian River Lagoon and Murphy, along with parishioner and beachside attorney John Moore, stepped up to raise the needed funds.

After a quiet initial plea by Moore in 2006, $1.7 million was collected, but Holy Cross needed someone to help Murphy rally the troops, so to speak. That’s when Bill Glavin got involved. A retired corporate executive with a knack for sales and closing deals, Glavin helped solidify the church’s commitment and meet the campaign goal.

“Father Murphy came to me and said, ‘Bill, we really need $5 million for Our Lady of Guadalupe and we need your help’ because he wanted to do it for the 25th anniversary of Holy Cross,” Glavin said. ‘“So in October 2007 we started having receptions in the rectory and from October to Jan. 26, 2008 we raised the rest, a total of $5.3 million.”

Born and raised in County Wexford, in the southeast of Ireland, Murphy was the youngest of six children. His father died when Murphy was just a baby, leaving his mother to run the family business and raise her family on her own.

But the loss and growing up without a father has given Murphy an immense compassion for people. It is also what drew him to the priesthood as his priests became surrogate father figures.

At 69 years old, Murphy thinks he’ll be at Holy Cross until he retires. Mandatory retirement is 75 years old.

“I’ve settled in here, but have never gotten used to the weather, the heat in Florida,” he laughed. “But I’ve found the people here to be equally as warm. I’ve always been amazed at the activity of the Catholic Church in America.”

All of Murphy’s work will be celebrated and highlighted on July 19 when hundreds gather in his honor to as he accepts the award. The event will be held at Holy Cross parish hall, which can accommodate about 320 people.

Before and after a sit-down dinner catered by Culinary Capers, musicians from the Gifford Violin Group will entertain and there will be a slide show highlighting the charitable work of Murphy and the people of Holy Cross Church. The banquet is the major fundraising event of the year for the GYAC, it brings in about $25,000 to support programs for the children of Gifford.

“It’s not about what the event brings to the GYAC, it’s about what it does for the people the GYAC serves,” Woolfork said. “It has a ripple effect because the people who attend tell other people that the GYAC is a wonderful organization in the community.”

Sponsorships of the event are now available and tickets are on sale for $125 per person. Parishioners who will not be in town in July are encouraged to purchase tickets or to sponsor tables.