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Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor celebrates his 75th birthday

posted on 24 August 2007

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, celebrates his 75th birthday on 24th August 2007. The following profile, written by Emma Clancy,  was featured in the August 2007 issue of Catholic Life magazine


Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor  was born on 24th August, 1932 in Reading, Berkshire, the fifth son of Dr George Murphy-O’Connor and his wife, Ellen. He recalls what it was like growing up as part of a large family. 


“On my fifth birthday there was a big family celebration while we were on holiday in Ireland. My mother, father and four brothers, together with uncles and aunts, were on a picnic together in a place called Ardmore.”


“Because it was my birthday, one of the uncles suggested I went round with my cap and asked everyone to put in a donation towards the birthday boy!  I seem to remember I did very well!  It was a happy day.”


The Cardinal was educated at Presentation College, Reading, before boarding at Prior Park College, Bath, for his secondary schooling.  He began training for the priesthood in 1950 at the Venerable English College, Rome.  Whilst at the College, he took a degree in philosophy and theology at the Gregorian University, Rome.  He was ordained priest in Rome on 28th October, 1956.


He said the idea to be a priest “must have been subconsciously in my mind for quite a long time.”


“But I remember very well the first day I expressed it openly.  I was travelling in my father’s car while he was going round to see his patients and he asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I immediately said that I wanted to be a priest – I was just 15 years old.  I remember thinking about other options, such as being a doctor like my father, or a musician, or a teacher, however I seemed to be quite certain when I expressed preference for the priesthood.”


Despite the “big sacrifice” for his parents, his father and mother were very supporting in his decision. “I already had two elder brothers who were preparing for priesthood and I am sure there was a sense of sacrifice and obedience to the Will of God that they willingly and happily concurred with and supported my decision,” he said.


Seven years in Rome


At just 18, like many seminary students, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor embarked for Rome.


“It was all very exciting,” he recalls.  “Not many people travelled abroad in those days to go on the long journey by train to Rome.  It was really quite an adventure.  I spent seven years in Rome studying philosophy and theology and was very happy there.  I think it was hard on my mother and father to have little contact with their sons for so long a period.  But I felt privileged to be in Rome; to live there at the heart of the Catholic Church and to have the opportunity of visiting so many lovely places in the city.”


After ordination, and back in England, the Cardinal was appointed to Corpus Christi parish, Portsmouth.  In 1963 he was transferred to the Sacred Heart parish, Fareham, as assistant and appointed diocesan director of vocations.  In the summer of 1966 he became private secretary and chaplain to the Bishop of Portsmouth, Derek Worlock.  He played a key part in helping Bishop Worlock establish the first diocesan pastoral centre at Park Place, Wickham.  He also played a part in the preparatory stages of the first national conference of priests in 1970.


In September 1970, he was appointed parish priest of the Immaculate Conception parish, Portswood, Southampton.  His term as parish priest was brief:  at the end of 1971 the Holy See appointed him Rector of the Venerable English College, Rome, giving him the responsibility for the training of students for the priesthood.  While Rector he acted as host to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Coggan, on the occasion of his historic visit to Pope Paul VI in 1977.


Ordained Bishop


On 21st December 1977 Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor was ordained Bishop of the diocese of Arundel and Brighton.  He served as chairman of the bishops’ committee for Europe (1978 to 1983), and as vice-president of the laity commission (1978 to 1983).  From 1983 to 2000 he was chairman of the committee for Christian unity, and, from 1994 to 2000, chairman of the department for mission and unity.  From 1982 to 2000 he was co-chairman of the Anglican and Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), whose latest document, The Gift of Authority, was published in 1999.  In 2000 he was awarded a doctorate of divinity by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, in recognition of all his work for Christian unity.  The Cardinal is an honorary bencher of the Inner Temple and in August 2001 was created a Freeman of the City of London.


Pope John Paul II


As Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, the then Bishop Cormac  Murphy-O’Connor had the honour of greeting Pope John Paul II at Gatwick during his 1982 UK visit.


Speaking during celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary in May 2007, he said every event and occasion during the visit “imprinted itself” on his memory.


“How well I remember that morning and the excitement and expectation as his plane came into view.  After arriving in London, the Holy Father celebrated Mass with all the bishops of England and Wales,” he said.


“There were many other events during that dramatic week but I particularly like to remember the outstanding ecumenical event at Canterbury when Pope John Paul and the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, knelt together and prayed together.  Watching this event imprinted in my heart – and in the hearts of countless others – not just an expression of the unity we share with fellow Christians but also a great hope for the future.”


Archbishop and Cardinal


Bishop Cormac Murphy-O’Connor was then installed as tenth Archbishop of Westminster on 22nd March 2000.  In November 2000 he was elected President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.  In February 2001 he was created a cardinal by Pope John Paul II, and assigned the titular church of the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.  The basilica houses the relics of St Catherine of Siena, doctor of the Church and one of the patron saints of Europe, the tomb of the Dominican Friar Blessed Fra Angelico, the patron saint of artists, the renowned ‘Figure of the Risen Christ’ by Michelangelo and frescoes by Fra  Filippo Lippi.


Within months of his entry to the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor was appointed by Pope John Paul II as member of four different Vatican offices:  the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, the Pontifical Council for the Study of Organisational and Economic Problems of the Holy See and the Presidential Committee of the Pontifical Council for the Family.  In 2002, he was appointed as member of the Pontifical Council for Culture in April, as member of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church in June and as member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in October.


He has been particularly interested in youth work, sacramental programmes and the development of small communities.  His previous diocese of Arundel and Brighton was the first English diocese to initiate the ‘Renew’ programme.


Nolan Review


In September 2000, he invited Lord Nolan to chair an independent review on child protection in the Catholic Church in England and Wales.  The Nolan Review publi

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posted on 24 August 2007

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