Sister Christina Murphy: Religious woman of the year

COLUMBIA—Sister Christina Murphy has dedicated her life to spreading the message of God’s  love wherever she is, whether in front of a classroom or behind the walls of a prison.

That is why the South Carolina Council of Catholic Women named her Religious Woman of the Year.

“I’m very happy and very touched to know that people thought that much of me, and I’m proud to be able to say to my community that we’ve been recognized by the Diocese of Charleston,” Sister Christina said in an interview with The Miscellany.

She was born in Philadelphia, the daughter of Walter and Adeline Murphy, and grew up in what  she described as “a real Irish household.” She attended Catholic elementary and high schools taught by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, and said that helped inspire her to join the order a year after she graduated.

“I got to know the spirit of the sisters, and I guess I never even thought about joining another community,” she said.

When she joined in 1960, they were primarily a teaching order. Sister Christina earned degrees in primary education and then came to the Diocese of Charleston to teach at St. Anthony  School in Florence as her first assignment.

She then moved to Washington, D.C., where she  taught primary grades and spent several years working with high school girls who faced challenges. Some had dropped out, or became teen moms, but all needed help in finding their path in life.

“We talked about God and they learned about God, and I guess I learned as much from them as they did from me,” Sister Christina said.

She returned to South Carolina and served as principal of St. Anthony School and then St. Joseph School in Columbia for 15 years.

In 2004, her life took a dramatic turn when she was sent to Our Lady of the Hills Church in Columbia to work as pastoral associate. Father D. Anthony Droze, pastor at the time, was active in prison ministry and told her about the need to reach out to the area’s incarcerated women. Since then, Sister Christina has visited women each week at maximum and minimum security facilities in Columbia.

She talks and prays with them, helps them learn about the Catholic Church and find hope in the Gospel. Sometimes, she said, something as simple as praying the rosary with a woman can help her find hope even while she is serving time away from family and friends.

She also started a Dismas Ministry program to help women begin a new life once they are  released.

“I’ve met some wonderful people, and there really are a lot of very spiritual women there,” she said.

“I’m so proud of the girls who have come out and really taken life seriously and done well.  Once they pay their dues and do what they have to do, there’s really no reason they can’t succeed if people are willing to give them a chance.”

In 2009, Sister Christina also started a respite care program at Our Lady of the Hills to help people caring for loved ones with dementia and other needs. All of her work, she said, has been about bringing God’s message of hope to whoever needs it.

“It’s been a wonderful life,” she said. “I wouldn’t change a day of it!”