Fr. Wilfrid Murchland

Fr. Wilfrid Murchland

December 21, 2015
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

A Holy Cross priest for more than five decades, Father Wilfrid Murchland was proud of having being a student of the Second Vatican Council, one of the most fulfilling periods of his priestly life.

"That whole thrust was always important to me," he once said. "That explains my involvement with the lay ministries because there was a whole shift from a clerical Church to a lay-centred Church, moving from ordination to Baptism."

Modeling that new vision of Church was a key part of Murchland's ministry.

Except for 13 years as associate pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Sherwood Park, Murchland was, for the most part, an academic and theologian. He taught in schools across the country and in the 1980s served as president of Newman Theological College.

He left his OLPH post two years ago to go to Welland, Ont., to serve as vicar superior of his congregation.

While on a recent family visit to his home province of New Brunswick, Murchland fell ill and underwent surgery. Five days later, on Nov. 28, he died of heart failure. He was 78.

At OLPH, Msgr. Jack Hamilton was still reeling from the news of his former assistant's death.

"It was so unexpected and even though he's been gone from here for two years, he is still very much a presence here among the staff and in the parish," Hamilton said. "He was a good pastor but I think mostly he was a good friend."

The two priests knew each other for more than two decades. About 15 years ago, Murchland returned to Edmonton after six years in St. John's, NL. Hamilton needed weekend help in the parish so he approached him.

"Why just weekends; why not fulltime?" Murchland asked.

"I thought you would be teaching at Newman," Hamilton replied.

"No, I haven't been offered anything," the priest said. He was hired on the spot.

"We just had 13 terrific years here," Hamilton said Dec. 8.

"He was a great success. He took on anything that I asked him to do and many things that I didn't on his own initiative. But he was basically my right-hand man for anything liturgical."

'HE WAS JUST GREAT'

In fact, Murchland was the parish theologian in residence, writing on issues such as Baptism, Eucharist and Church's customs. "So he fit in just about anywhere we needed him. He was just great."

OLPH, where Murchland celebrated his 50th anniversary of priesthood in 2013, held a memorial Mass in the priest's honour Dec. 10.

Born and raised in Debec, N.B., Murchland was the fifth in a family of nine children. Growing up, he dealt with priests on a regular basis, both as an altar server and a student. Gradually he developed a fondness for the vocation.

The Holy Cross Fathers were teachers and Murchland wanted to be a teacher so he joined them.

He was ordained Feb. 17, 1963 and said the Second Vatican Council was one of the most fulfilling periods of his priestly life. He was in Rome studying at the time, and many of his professors were involved in the council.

Consequently he dedicated his life to modeling that new vision of Church.

"We take Vatican II for granted," he once lamented. "But if you were to try to form a parish in the image of pre-Vatican II, turning the altar around to the wall and using Latin, it wouldn't fly. Many things are grounded in Vatican II."

Over the years, Murchland taught in a number of places across the country, including Notre Dame High School in Welland, Ont., St. Thomas University in Fredericton, the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon and Newman College in Edmonton.

LAY MINISTRIES

During the early 1970s he spent four years as an executive assistant in the national office of religious education of the Canadian bishops in Ottawa.

In 1993 he moved to St. John's to serve as archdiocesan director of religious education. He also started a lay ministries program in his six years there.

"As you can see, my trajectory is in education, theology and religious education," the priest said in 2013, just before he left for Ontario.

In fact, OLPH was the only parish where Murchland served on a permanent basis. "What a great experience this has been."

Franciscan Father Don MacDonald, a long-time professor at Newman, met Murchland at the college during the 1980s. "I really felt very, very badly when I heard he'd died," he said.

"I didn't know that he was ill. He was a very, very good friend and we worked very well together."

'A REAL EDUCATOR'

Murchland was president for close to seven years "and he was a real educator," recalled MacDonald.

"He was very much interested in implementing Vatican II in the Church. He really, really encouraged the role of laypeople in the Church. He had a good sense of the Church, and he had a good sense of the modern world."

and's ministry.