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AFTER 65 YEARS, MONSIGNOR STILL SHEPHERDING HIS FLOCK.

Byline: Holly J. Andres

Staff Writer

WOODLAND HILLS -- Monsignor Richard H. Murray had to give up driving recently but that hasn't stopped the young-in-spirit, 92-year-old clergyman's dedication to parish members at St. Bernardine of Siena Roman Catholic Church.

Murray, the founding priest of St. Bernardine of Siena parish, will be the principal celebrant at the noon Mass on Sunday as he and the parish celebrate the 65th anniversary of his ordination that was held on April 27, 1943, in St. Vibiana's Cathedral in Los Angeles.

"He's been retired for 20 years but he's like those batteries that keep on going. He is retired from the administrative work but there's no retirement from shepherding the flock," said the Rev. Robert J. McNamara from St. Bernardine.

"He started this family and he's still the father. He complements me," said McNamara, who is Murray's second successor, after the Monsignor Paul Dotson. "He's quite active and I'm thrilled to have him here. He's fantastic."

A network of friends -- longtime parishioners -- drives Murray around as he visits the sick or homebound of the parish. Murray often slips a note to one of the church's priests that says he will "take the 6:30 a.m." Mass if scheduling gets hectic for McNamara and the associate pastors at the church.

Murray was born in the central Louisiana city of Alexandria and moved to Los Angeles in 1923. He graduated from Los Angeles College, a high school-junior seminary, and St. John's Seminary in Camarillo.

Prior to being chosen to establish St. Bernardine of Siena by Cardinal James Francis McIntyre of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Murray served at All Souls Roman Catholic Church in Alhambra and St. Paul Roman Catholic Church, on South Bronson Avenue in Los Angeles.

Murray excelled at languages, especially Latin, Greek and Spanish, in school. He was offered a position to teach languages to seminary students but he felt that his calling was with parish work.

"I love to minister to people. My biggest challenge was to start this parish. It was an honor to be appointed pastor here. The best part of being a priest? Being in the service of God and the people," Murray said.

Murray recalled that when he started the parish, Valley Circle Boulevard, a corner on which St. Bernardine of Siena is located, was just dirt.

The parish that "started with zero" in 1962 met first for services in the library at Chaminade High School, then the auditoriums at Canoga Park High School and Hale Junior High School in Woodland Hills.

The Parish Hall was completed and first used for services in October 1964. The current church structure was completed in July 2000. The parish started with about 1,500 families and there are 2,800 families currently.

Getting the people involved in services and the parish school was Murray's goal, to help create a family at St. Bernardine of Siena. Two pieces of advice he gives to people looking to strengthen their Christian faith are: Get involved in service to your parish and read the Bible.

"He actually came to the house. I was kind of taken aback," recalled Paula Dersom, a parishioner since 1979, upon meeting Murray for the first time.

"Father Murray sat and we talked. He asked if I wanted to teach religious education. We had a great time talking and we became friends."

Dersom went on to teach at the parish school and was also its principal for three years.

She remembered the RENEW International Program, a small prayer group with community outreach goals, that Murray implemented at the parish.

"That program put life into our parish in the early '80s. I think he was very proud of RENEW," Dersom said.

What qualities make a priest successful? Murray, who was elevated to monsignor in 1983, said that being available to parishioners, having a sense of humor and an outgoing personality are all assets -- but strong faith, living that faith and being devoted to prayer are crucial.

"He's an old-time priest with old-time values. He's a priest 24/7," Dersom said. "He is so loved in this parish. The kids love him. If people move away, they come back just to see him.

"I remember one time, it was about 4 o'clock and I had to get something inside the church. I went inside. It was dark and I didn't see him at first but there was Father Murray, in the pews, praying in that darkness," said Dersom with emotion in her voice. "He's leading this humble life. He's a gentle, kind person. That's what leads me."

holly.andres(at)dailynews.com

818-713-3708

WANT TO GO?

Monsignor Richard H. Murray will celebrate the noon Mass on Sunday at St. Bernardine of Siena Roman Catholic Church, 24410 Calvert St., Woodland Hills. Reception will follow in the parish hall. Information: 818-888-8200; www.stbernardine.org.

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Monsignor Richard H. Murray celebrates the 65th anniversary of his ordination this year and will be having a special Mass and reception in his honor Sunday at St. Bernardine of Siena Roman Catholic Church in Woodland Hills.

Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 26, 2008
Words:863
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