Brother John Murphy, a member of the Congregation of the Christian Brothers and based in Athy since 1960 holds the distinction of being the longest serving Christian Brother in the town in the 133 year history of the Athy Community. On the 23rd of September he celebrated the 70th anniversary of his entry into the Christian Brothers. That day coincided with the townspeoples celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the death of Venerable Edmund Rice, founder of the Christian Brothers.
Brother Murphy was born in Rineen, near Milltown, Co. Clare from where he entered the Christian Brothers Juniorate in Baldoyle, Dublin at seventeen and a half years of age. Ten years later his younger brother Frank followed him into the Christian Brothers and he celebrated his Diamond Jubilee last April. Between the two Clare brothers there is a remarkable 130 years as members of the Christian Brothers in Ireland.
Brother John Murphy after completing his Junior Year in Baldoyle later attended the Teacher Training College. He took final vows in 1932 after spending a short stint as a Novice Brother in North Monastery, Cork. In 1933 he transferred to Gorey where the young Christian Brother took on the responsibilities of Superior of the Christian Brother Monastery and Principal of the Primary School. He was to spend 12 years there before transferring to Greystones where he remained until 1948 when he went to Drogheda as Principal of the Primary School. Four years later he arrived in Dolphins Barn, Dublin, again assuming the dual role of Superior and Principal before coming to Athy as Principal of the Primary School in 1960.
The 1960's witnessed many changes in Irish education. The Donagh O'Malley years, mythologised by many and eulogised by that fine journalist, the late John Healy, was part of the changing pattern of an Irish society then growing to maturity. The State, which up to then had relied on the Christian Brothers and other religious societies to make Secondary education available to all and sundry without charge now began to take on more of the responsibilities it had neglected in the past.
The changing education scene led to an expansion in Secondary School numbers. New schools were needed in Athy and the prospect of a new Secondary School was in 1971 to galvanise the local people into considering the future of second level education in the town. The possibility of amalgamating the three existing local Secondary Schools which was favoured by the Department of Education was the subject of local debate where passions ruled and the future was not accurately anticipated. As a result a Community School for Athy was rejected by the townspeople over twenty years ago.
It was to fall to men like Brother Murphy in the forefront of the education process for many years to continue to meet the educational needs of a young growing population. Before he retired as School Principal in 1974 Brother Murphy had overseen the transformation which gave us the first Parents School Council and a new Primary School in Athy to replace the first school building erected in 1861.
Now twenty years later he celebrates 70 years as a follower of Edmund Rice. Since his arrival in Athy in 1960 he has endeared himself to students and parents alike. After 34 years in Athy the unassuming, courteous man from Clare is the longest serving member of the Christian Brothers in the 133 years of the Institutes association with the town. His unique achievement of service to Athy will never be surpassed, now that we have learnt of the imminent departure of the Christian Brothers from Athy.
The cultural bedrock of education in Athy is firmly in place thanks to the work of the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy whose future involvement in local Schools is now very uncertain. Maybe the time has come for the townspeople to re-assess the future of our presently fragmented Secondary School system in Athy.