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Dictionary of Miramichi Biography

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MURDOCH, BENEDICT JOSEPH (1886-1973)

MURDOCH, BENEDICT JOSEPH, Catholic parish priest, Douglastown, 1921-30, military officer, and author; b. Chatham, 21 Mar 1886, s/o Robert A. Murdoch and Mary Allen; ordained 1911; d. Chatham, 31 Jan 1973.

Benedict J. Murdoch received his higher education at St Dunstan's College (1904-08) and was trained for the priesthood at the Grand Seminary in Quebec. His ordination in 1911 was followed by several short-term assignments, including a year as curate at Newcastle. In 1916 he enlisted as a chaplain in the 132nd Battalion. He served in France, Germany, and Belgium for the duration of the war, and as he reveals in his autobiographical works, the experience affected him profoundly.

Murdoch was the parish priest at Jacquet River from 1919 to 1921, after which he was transferred to Douglastown. In 1923 he received a concurrent part-time appointment to the St Thomas College staff. In 1930, because of the continuing "ill effects of his years in military service," he was granted a leave of absence. During 1931-32 he was resident chaplain of the Hotel Dieu. "Among the patients at the hospital," he wrote, "was an old friend, Father Crumley. I can still recall his words of greeting, that, I think, he meant to be reassuring. He said: 'You will like it...It is quiet and peaceful in the Chaplain's suite. You are away from all the noise and activity, for it is secluded. Father Bannon died there; Father Knight died there; Bishop Rogers died there; Father Morriscy died there...' So I left and went over to my rooms, where all was peaceful and quiet - and hoped for the best."

On the recommendation of his physician, Dr J. A. M. Bell, Murdoch was allowed to withdraw from full-time pastoral work in 1932. He was already a respected author, and from then onward his days were given over to writing, interrupted by occasional calls to preach retreats and serve the emergency supply needs of the church. He spent much of the rest of his life in seclusion at a former lumber camp far up the Bartibog River. This was the "Far Away Place" of his book by that name, and it could be reached from the nearest car road only by a footpath seven miles in length.

Murdoch wrote ten books, his first being The Red Vineyard (1923), a spiritual autobiography of his wartime experiences. It was well received by reviewers and went through nine editions. Autobiographical narration is also used in Part Way Through (1946) and Far Away Place (1952). Most of the other works are fictional or spiritual and are less well known, but the demand for Alone With Thee, a book of religious readings, was such that several printings were required.

Three years before his death Murdoch moved into Mount St Joseph in Chatham. In 1971, on the sixtieth anniversary of his ordination, Pope Paul VI made him an honorary prelate of His Holiness, with the title of "Monsignor." He continued to write to the end. It was stated in a church newsletter that on the day of his death, at age eighty-six, the last of his books, Facing Into the Wind, arrived from the press.

Sources

[b] church records [d] New Freeman 10 Feb 1973 / Cogswell; Fraser (STC); Murdoch; RC clergy files


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