Mmegi Blogs :: Bishop Urban Murphy (1)
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Thursday 18 January 2018, 13:00 pm.
Bishop Urban Murphy (1)

Bishop Murphy was a major figure in Gaborone in the years immediately preceding Independence and those after it.
By Sandy Grant Wed 16 Nov 2016, 18:55 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: Bishop Urban Murphy (1)

Yet outside the Catholic community, he remains today an almost unknown and unremembered figure.. I only knew Murphy as the country’s first Catholic bishop so it came as something of a revelation to read about a Monsignor Murphy in Bernie Mullens’ book, ‘The Bow End of Rain’ in which she describes her family life in Palapye. I should know a great more about Murphy’s earlier years in this country having listened to the lengthy eulogy at his funeral in perhaps 1980, not the usual once, but twice. 

The government, presumably unable to work out what its spokesman might say about him, asked the Church to provide biographical information. It must have passed on the text of the speech which had been drafted for the Papal representative.  Having listened to this speech, it came as a shock when Vice President Lenyeletse Seretse then delivered the same speech, word for word. If the government at that time was unable to assess Murphy’s contribution to the wider Gaborone community, we today are bound to find it even more difficult. Yet there are small insights which can give us clues about him. Sheila Bagnall, for instance, was incensed by the then new Papal Humane Vitae with its pronunciations about family planning.

In her Letters from Botswana, she reported, in a letter dated August 27, 1968, that  ‘when I was in Gaborone, the man who runs the radio wanted me to debate the issue with the Catholic Bishop Murphy. He did manage to get us together at the football field, but Murphy wasn’t having any


debate, much less one that would be broadcast.

‘Now what would you be wanting to spoil a nice football game with that sort of talk for’. That was Murphy the experienced diplomat. A different Murphy was described by the Anglican Fr. Alan Butler when he commented in a letter to myself, dated April 7 2008 that, ‘ very powerful changes were going on in the churches.  Vatican II had just happened. … The tensions between Churches had a fruitful side though.

I remember Bishop Murphy bringing the new Papal Nuncio to visit Trinity Church, who said that if the changes under Vatican II had been decided earlier the Catholics might have also become involved.  Bishop Murphy blushed a bit when the Legate said that. He was no friend of unity!’*  Murphy’s disinterest in church unity is placed by Butler himself in its wider context in a letter of the same date when he remarked that, ‘whilst these dioceses (Kimberley and Bulawayo) authorised Anglican acceptance of the Gaberones Scheme (Trinity Church) a number of Anglicans living in Botswana opposed the plan, feeling it would hinder the expansion of distinctly Anglican structures in Botswana.

Lady Khama came to feel strongly about this, as did Bishop Mize when he came to stay in Botswana.  But that was Murphy, the conservative church leader. Yet another Murphy was the one who Sheila Bagnall found at a football match. But of that, more anon.

*‘Tracking Down the Genesis of Trinity Church, Gaborone’ is to be published in a forthcoming issue of Botswana Notes and Records’


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