Sr. Regina Murphy, S.C.
9 November 2007
2 hours, 47 minutes
Ireland House Oral History Collection, Archives of Irish America, New York University
Regina Murphy (b. 1939), a Sister of Charity, is the daughter of Thomas Paul Murphy, an immigrant from Co. Mayo, Ireland, and Katherine Murphy, from Co. Galway. Her father began working in New York City in James Butler’s groceries and eventually owned and operated his own store. She has one older brother, Tommy, who entered religious life as a brother but left before taking his vows and married the “girl next door.”
Educated at St. Margaret of Cortona School in Riverdale and Sacred Heart of Mary High School, Regina Murphy went to Marymount College in Tarrytown, NY, for two years before deciding to enter the Sisters of Charity in 1959.(1) She finished her education at the College of Mount St. Vincent, then obtained graduate degrees from St. Louis University and Fordham University.
Sr. Regina started missionary work in the Bahamas in 1969, the same year she took her final vows. Her work there was in education but her observation of the stark contrast in living standards between the island natives and visiting tourists drove her towards peace and justice work. Eventually she became the Mission Coordinator for the Sisters of Charity. In this position Sr. Regina visited her peers in Guatemala where the sisters were involved in water projects and organizing social service networks.
Vatican II changed the religious life of Catholics around the world. For Sr. Regina, it marked the beginning of a change in the way the Catholic Church perceived social problems and injustice. Rather than simply taking care of day-to-day needs of the underprivileged, she felt that Vatican II placed greater emphasis on the social infrastructure, addressing what needed to be changed systemically to achieve a better quality of life for all members of society. As a result she focused her energy as an advocate for corporate responsibility. Sr. Regina worked for the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility,(2) a local coalition of New York-based religious orders with investments in many companies. She also fought hard to establish the McBride Principles.(3) Although inspired by labor discrimination against Catholics in Northern Ireland, the McBride Principles are written as a universal guide for preventing discrimination of any kind in the work place. In 1988 they were instrumental to the implementation of the Fair Employment Act in Northern Ireland.
At the time of this interview, Sr. Regina Murphy was the property manager for the Sisters of Charity, overseeing both the maintenance of buildings and construction projects for the order.
Excerpt No. 1
On becoming a nunDisc 1; 62:48–64;49
Transcription of Excerpt No. 1:
JR: Since your parents were so opposed to it, what do you think was the force that propelled you to actually enter the convent?
RM: I really did feel called. You know, that this was what – I mean, I dated, and I went out with a fella for years. I mean, it wasn’t – like I said, I wasn’t a holy-gamole type but I really did feel called. And I also realized that, that material things weren’t, weren’t what made us happy. You know, I saw my parents working for, you know, for the things they never had, and we lost out on a home life.
LA: Yeah, Yeah.
RM: For me, anyway, after my brother left, my mother would be down at the store a lot, and she’d get home at 8 o’clock at night, and so I basically grew up like Topsy in high school. My brother says we were the original latch-key children. Often the key would be under the mat; you know, you come home at lunch time. But I realized – and I remember two very, I guess very dramatic moments. I had the car and I was driving up to Harvard to go to some weekend thing that a guy from the neighborhood who went to Harvard invited me to – or Yale, no, it was Yale – and you know, it seems so exciting driving out of Marymount, and it was a flashy car, it was one of those ones with the fins –
LA: The wings? Oh, yeah, the fins.
RM: A ’57 Dodge, and it was red and white. So, I mean, you couldn’t get much flashier except with the convertible maybe, and you know, driving out of this very neat school – you know, Marymount had (even though many of us weren’t rich), you know, a very fancy image and all of that – going to an Ivy League school, and I thought, “This isn’t where it’s at.” You know, “This isn’t what makes you happy.”
Excerpt No. 2
Shutting down a factoryDisc 2, 31:08–33:52
Transcription of Excerpt No. 2:
RM: And I went over a lot in those days and, I think, yes, it was the same year, I went to the General Motors plant and talked with the personnel people because the people in Detroit, when we met with them, said we have to talk to the people on the ground over there [in Northern Ireland]. So we go over and I met with the human resources, or whatever, and they’re saying, “Oh, you gotta talk to the Detroit people!” I said, “They’re saying we gotta talk to you.” Anyway, they gave me a little tour of the factory and then, that night, I was going back down to Dublin and I was staying with the Little Sisters of the Assumption. And then someone called me, a reporter. And so, he said, “What do you think, how do you feel about what happened?” And I said, “Well, oh, you know,” I said, “well, you know, we had an interview, we discussed,” and I said, what, I just said, and he said, “I mean the strike!” And I said, “What are you talking about?” And he said, “The shutdown, the plant closed!”
LA: Oh, you’re kidding! From the time you left until the time you got to the telephone?
RM: Now it was that night he called.
RM: He said the people, the workers – and it was out, it was out – it wasn’t out in Bangor but in that direction, in the Protestant section – so most of the workers were Protestant. They realized who I was going around, even though I didn’t have a habit on, going around with the human resources person, and they struck or they shut down the plant. They left or they sat in. I don’t know what they did, but the plant closed! And it was because, you know, a Catholic nun was there and challenging, so –
LA: Oh, my God!
RM: I wish I could find that article. There was a big article and I said, “I tend” – “I’m not a firebrand or a piece–”
LA: What year was that?
RM: This was about 1986, ’87? And I looked up – I went on the Catholic, the Irish Echo website this morning but their articles – there was another great article when we were just starting [that] the Irish Echo did and they interviewed me over here at 20 Washington Square North, but I think their [online] archives only went back to ’95 or something.
LA: They’re sporadic, yeah, what they have [online], yeah.
RM: But it was, yeah, in the Irish papers. I mean, the articles were great. I said, “Here I am, I mean, I am relatively, you know, meek and mild but it wasn’t like – you know, we had a very sensible conversation. So I laugh – people have kidded me ever since: oh yeah, you have shut down a factory!”
- Julia Ryan (JR)
- Linda Dowling Almeida (LA)
- Regina Murphy, high school graduation portrait by the White Studio, West 58th Street, New York City, June 1957. Photo courtesy of Sr. Regina Murphy, S.C.
- Tommy Murphy (center) with his parents Thomas and Katherine Murphy on his graduation from Iona College, 1957. Photo courtesy of Sr. Regina Murphy, S.C.
- Sr. Regina Murphy, early 1960s. Photo courtesy of Sr. Regina Murphy, S.C.
- Sr. Regina Murphy, Bahamas, circa 1968-1972. Photo courtesy of Sr. Regina Murphy, S.C.
- Sr. Regina Murphy, right, with New York City Comptroller Elizabeth Holtzman, center, at the presentation of the 1991 Doors of Hope Award. Photo courtesy of Sr. Regina Murphy, S.C.
- Sr. Regina Murphy, left, with Oliver Kearney at the presentation of the 1991 Doors of Hope Award. Photo courtesy of Sr. Regina Murphy, S.C.
- Sr. Regina Murphy, S.C., 23 September 2008. Photo by Christine Haggerty.
- Founded by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first mission of the Sisters of Charity of New York was in 1817; they were officially established as a congregation in 1846. For its history see http://www.scny.org/ourHistory.html
- Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, http://www.iccr.org/
- For their continuing impact on New York City, for example, see The McBride Principles and The Equality Agenda in Northern Ireland (2006) at http://www.comptroller.nyc.gov/press/pdfs/pr-06-11-084_macbride_principles.pdf