Fr. Murphy, Hawaii, and Those Clouds…


When I saw the cloud formation in Hawaii, I was back there, in the church of my youth, St. Mary’s, the oldest parish in the Pawtuxet Valley, a church that ranks as significant in historical registers.

You see, right behind the altar was a full wall mural of the Virgin Mary ascending the heavens, with baby Jesus in her arms.  Maybe the Serpent was under her foot? The blue and white of her robe were soothing and contrasted with the pink-tinged cottony clouds that billowed about. 

I loved that painting.  It kept me enthralled when the priest’s words did not. 

And I hadn’t thought of it in years…. not ‘til I saw the cloud formation in Hawaii.  Then, it brought back a flood of other memories.

Fr. Murphy was a bellicose individual, part of that old school of fire and brimstone priests who pounded the podium weekly, to get his parishioners’ attention. What was his purpose?  The collection of money…not an easy thing in a small, blue-collar, milltown parish. 

Catholics don’t particularly follow the tenets of Protestant groups that believe in the 10% rule of tithe, so each parish’s financial well-being depends on how well the Pastor delivers the Word of God, with proper enjoinders to “Give to the Church.”

Father Murphy was short…rotund…and had a bulbous nose (suggesting he drank.)

Each week the crescendo began as his oratory rose in power, shouting down the congregation, with his words, laced with fury.  Since our church sat at the topmost part of the hill overlooking the valley, we joked that people ‘went to church’– even if they didn’t, physically. 

His booming voice carried to every corner.

My brothers were altar boys; it was before the era girls were allowed to do so.

The congregants often spoke behind their Pastor’s back, in that he was vehemently disliked.  Some suggested he had a conjugal relationship with his housekeeper, Maude, a stern, Germanic woman who spoke little but evidenced a contemptuous attitude for anyone who dared approach the Rectory, on official business (getting church documents, etc.)

And Fr. Murphy was never kind or generous.  At my own church wedding, in 1969, he turned away the uncle of my husband-to-be who desperately needed to use his bathroom, (there were none in the church for church-goers.)

I was aghast as I witnessed that 75-year-old uncle amble off in search of a gas station in town.  The groom’s family were Baptists, so I’m sure they were furious at “those damned Catholics.”  After all, my fiancée had already agreed to honor my church’s mandate that any children would be raised in the Catholic faith (a pre-condition before a priest will marry a Catholic to an other-faith other.)

So, how do you like this chain of association? I’m a far older woman, visiting Hawaii; I look up to see a cloud formation in the sky; and I’m immediately blasted back in time, some 60 years, to the church of my youth?

I had to take a photograph to commemorate the moment. I’ve posted it at the top.

This all just proves to me that there, in the million chinks of my mind, is everything I’ve ever seen or done, and those memories are waiting to re-emerge.

One never knows, however, what will prompt the re-emergence.  In this instance, it was a cloud formation in the sky, in Hawaii…There was just something familiar about those cumulous pink/blue clouds that put me right back in that pew…

….Right back… working hard at tamping down the Pastor’s vitriole.

And I find that whole association fascinating.

About admin

A lifetime teacher and realtor who's now a published writer, Colleen Kelly Mellor is a humorist first, ever aware of the thread that connects us all. Her works have appeared in the WSJ, Providence Journal, and CNN and NY Times-acclaimed medical blog,, to name a few. All material on this blog is exclusive property of the author and cannot be reproduced without this author's express written consent.
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