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Ms. Katherine Murphy’s authentic life

Ms.+Katherine+Katie+Murphy+is+known+for+pushing+and+challenging.+her+students+in+their+understanding+of+social+justice.+Photo+by+Mason+Dougherty%2F+Photo+II+student
Ms. Katherine “Katie” Murphy is known for pushing and challenging. her students in their understanding of social justice. Photo by Mason Dougherty/ Photo II student

Gonzaga’s own Ms. Katherine “Katie” Murphy was born into an extensive, normal, Catholic family. As the youngest of seven, she went to Catholic grade school, played kickball with her siblings and was raised in a happily married and tight-knit family.

Being the youngest child to go to college, it was a little tricky financially, so she joined the ROTC while attending James Madison University. During her ROTC training, there came a point where the recruits were forced to aim down the sights of a rifle and shout “Kill Commies.” Ms. Murphy refused. She valued the life of all humans, even her enemies, so much that she put down her gun and walked away. This was the start of what Ms. Murphy believes  to be her authentic life.

After dropping out of ROTC, Ms. Murphy stayed at James Madison until graduation. During her time at JMU, she wanted to travel the world and do service anywhere she could. To make this traveling a reality, she started working a summer job with the CIA. During the summer she traveled to and served in third world countries in Asia.

Once Ms. Murphy graduated from college, she lived for a year in Japan doing service. After that year was up, she began backpacking across Asia. Ms. Murphy traveled across mountain ranges, tropical valleys and poor, small villages where service and aid were needed. As she went across the continent, she began doing work with Mother Teresa. Ms. Murphy spent months working in Calcutta and the neighboring areas until finally coming back to the DMV where she has stayed since.

“I came back, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. Other than that, [I knew] I did not want to live off the backs of anybody. […] I wanted to forge a different type of life that was more authentic and I guess more beautiful or kind,” Ms. Murphy said.

Once she was back in America, she received her master’s degree in religious studies from Catholic University and shortly after began interviewing at schools to teach at.

“I went into Carroll High School as a practice interview, really had no intention of teaching there— and I walked in the door and I knew it; I knew what was supposed to be,” Ms. Murphy said.

Part of the reason Ms. Murphy felt called to work at Carroll because of one of the teachers there— Robert Hoderny, an impassioned advocate for social justice. He had been studying to become a priest, but he left the monastery and began working with the homeless in Washington, D.C. and eventually, he began teaching at Carroll. His classes at Carroll placed emphasis on the need to abolish homelessness in the District and in all of America, and he had a heavy emphasis on the strength and resolve needed to end these issues. Ms. Murphy carried both of these aspects with her for the rest of her life and has infused into her own social justice in action class.

“He was just on fire. With Mother Teresa, I found her way of living really meaningful and beautiful. It was, to me, a very authentic life. It wasn’t the status quo, funky stuff. But then this guy [Robert Hoderny], he had this rage for justice. […] Mother Teresa was nice, but she didn’t have a rage for justice,” Ms. Murphy said.

Inspired by her new friend and mentor, Ms. Murphy began doing service and working with the poor and homeless all across Washington, D.C. and made a commitment to stay, to teach and to learn at Carroll. The more she served the less fortunate across the District, the more joy that she felt. Volunteering in soup kitchens, ministering on streets, serving in shelters and working with people experiencing homelessness gave and still gives Ms. Murphy a feeling of authenticity—a feeling of genuine love and a real sense of change.

“I worked a lot with the homeless and with all the issues, so I ended up staying at Carroll for 17 years,” she said.

Following the sudden, tragic death of Mr. Hoderny in 1996, Ms. Murphy took over teaching social justice at Carroll and stayed there until she received a call from current Gonzaga religion teacher Mr. Andrew Turner who offered her a job teaching here on Eye Street.

“I thought Ms. Murphy would fit very well into the Gonzaga community.  She had a wonderful reputation at Carroll, and believed in our mission at Gonzaga. Ms. Murphy brought experience and enthusiasm for teaching the faith to Eye St.  Her commitment to peace and justice would benefit our community greatly,” stated Mr. Turner, who also teaches religion.

Ms. Murphy listened to his call, and she saw it as a push from God.

“St. Ignatius talks about these lightning bolt experiences, and I was literally on top of a mountain backpacking when Andy Turner called me, and he said, ‘You know, we have a job opening. Do you want it?’ And I was not anticipating leaving Carroll. I thought I’d die there. And on that mountain, I just knew that [Gonzaga was] where I was supposed to be,” Ms. Murphy said.

Making the transition to Gonzaga was difficult for Murphy. She was going from a predominantly black, fairly less affluent school to a very rich, private, gated school, and the transition felt wrong.

“It felt like selling out. I was a little bit almost ashamed to go to such a rich school because I really wanted to dedicate my life to the poor,” Ms. Murphy said. “Look around this room. Look at all the wood, look at how big the door is. […] You don’t have concrete cinder block walls, right? You have color printers. The school is so wealthy.”

Despite how strange it felt and how conflicting it was for Ms. Murphy, she worked hard to settle in and to understand her new environment. Something that helped her to understand the mission of Gonzaga was to look at the teachings of Fr. Pedro Arrupe, which provided support and confidence in Ms. Murphy’s switch.

“He believed that the purpose of education was to form men for others. That ‘men for others’ isn’t about holding doors,” Ms. Murphy said.

To her, being ‘men for others’ coincided with her ideas of living an authentic life. Gonzaga was inspiring, and she was now teaching young men to live lives of service. Ms. Murphy finally had a way of spreading her authentic life in a completely new environment full of young men who wanted to experience the kind of life she had led.

However, just because she could teach her ideas of an authentic life did not mean that it was an easy task for her. Ms. Murphy really struggled with teaching kids at Gonzaga how to live their authentic lives because the issues that Ms. Murphy wanted people to understand were completely foreign to so many people at Gonzaga.

“Kids at Carroll would just get it you know, and here we have to fight it. […] It really has to be taught because […] kids here don’t have the experiences that some other kids might have,” Ms. Murphy said.

Then, about six or seven years ago, Ms. Murphy started her social justice in action class, one of the most Ignatian heavy classes offered at Gonzaga. This class is where Ms. Murphy truly was able to start showing people her authentic life. This class teaches about homelessness in Washington, D.C.; it also teaches about its causes, its effects and allows students a weekly opportunity to go down and do service in the McKenna Center.

“This is like a dream class for anybody in social justice to be doing a service learning course,” Ms. Murphy said.

This class is so powerful because it gives Ms. Murphy a class full of seniors who have the same ideas that she does. These students want to do service and to start lives dedicated to service and helping others. Authentic lives. This class is so helpful and pivotal for students who want to grow in their Ignatian spirituality, and it is led by a teacher who is so impressive and passionate about helping the poor and teaching others how to help the poor. To those who will not take this class or to those who missed out on taking it, Ms. Murphy offered some advice on how to live authentic lives.

“If you have a goal of living an authentic life, you have to have openness for what you cannot imagine. […] I’ve always found that like those decisions are where you find the richest life,” Ms. Murphy said.

Ms. Murphy’s students are indeed learning what it means to live an authentic life, too.

“Each lesson is infused with an infectious passion that not only helps her teach the material effectively, but it makes students like me want to learn more and more about the topic we are studying. It’s hard to undercut Ms. Murphy’s passion and devotion to teaching and promoting justice, but it’s even harder to undercut the extent to which she lives what she preaches,” stated senior Aidan Friedman, who currently taking Ms. Murphy’s social justice in action class.

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  • H

    Harry Geib, SJFeb 28, 2023 at 1:15 pm

    Thank you Mr. Limarzi for an interesting article about Ms. Murphy. Her background and journey to where she is today is inspiring. She exemplifies the words “actions speak louder than words!” We are fortunate to have such a person of passion and commitment to persons who are homeless here in D.C.

    Reply
  • C

    Carol CorganFeb 28, 2023 at 12:18 pm

    It’s wonderful to see Ms. Murphy celebrated for what she does. She is indeed passionate and communicates her passion to teachers as well as students. Ms. Murphy is a gift from God to all of us!
    Well done!

    Reply