More About Karen Murphy
My Journey, or…. How I arrived at this moment and place!
I was born into a large extended Catholic family on both sides of my mom's family. I was raised Catholic, and attended Catholic high school and college. While in college at The University of Scranton, I was deeply immersed in all aspects of campus ministry. I served various roles at Sunday mass, sang with the choir, and performed all kinds of community service.
I thought I might pursue graduate studies in theology, but after earning my undergraduate degree in theology and philosophy, I found myself working as a fundraising consultant for a fantastic firm, Community Counselling Service (CCS) based in New York City. I loved knowing that every day I was contributing to good being done in the world. Many of my clients were Catholic churches who participated in large diocesan campaigns. I also worked with schools and other nonprofits. In August 2001, my mom passed away after a two year battle with colon cancer. It was a time of retreating and recalibrating for my family.
A mere month later 9/11 happened in my beloved New York City and in the two years during and immediately following, while still working for CCS, I ran the Cardinal’s Annual Appeal for the Archdiocese of New York. I was overwhelmed by people’s generosity during that difficult time, in which we also learned of the widespread clergy abuse within the Church. The fidelity and hardiness of the laity was truly inspiring to me during those years.
I also had the great honor of working with the impeccable and ever-inspiring Doctors Without Borders. After I stopped consulting I was blessed to work fulltime for the Girls Scouts in New York City and then the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation before feeling a call to a change of vocation. The seeds of service would always remain with me and over the years I often would think of going back to school for another theology degree.
While I lived in NYC, I found a wonderful group of people who became my companions in the efforts to create a United States Department of Peace. I also began to study in earnest the practice of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), with a teacher, Miki Kashtan, who would open my work and my inner world to the spiritual practice of empathy. I brought this gift with me when I made a major life change in my late 30s.
In August of 2009, at age 37, I made the move from nonprofit career executive to unpaid volunteer when I was accepted to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest and given an assignment in Missoula, Montana. The change from financially lucrative (though socially beneficial) work to spiritually lucrative work changed my life trajectory. While there I worked at the Western Montana Mental Health Center, supporting men and women with chronic debilitating mental illness. The time I spent in Missoula deepened my faith exponentially. I had moved to a new state 2,700 miles away from home. I lived with four other women who were complete strangers, and all fresh out of college. I didn’t know anyone at church. I was – for the first time ever – working fulltime on the frontline with men and women in need. As a result, my prayer life exploded. God became my constant companion as I witnessed suffering in a new way, as I navigated challenging relationships, and even as I continued to grapple with my own faith beliefs and questions. And … once again, more ruminations about the possibility of studying theology.
My time in Montana was hard and it was necessary and important, and filled with grace and beauty. I grew to love the men and women at the Center, and I grew to care very much for my roommates. I made new friends at church and the community whose faces, when I see them on social media, still bring a smile to my heart. I also learned that I truly enjoyed, and was gifted, to be a companion to people in the midst of their own spiritual journeys. I was, as they say in JVC, “ruined for life.”
After nearly two years in Montana I moved back to New York, primarily to ensure that I could build a relationship with my exquisite Goddaughter, who was then 18 months old. I was blessed again to find the most wonderful job at Putnam ARC, an agency that supports adult and children with developmental disabilities. What grace-filled work! Once again, I was changed as I mentored and coached and supported and listened. And once again, thoughts of “doing ministry” full time and finally getting that degree began to swamp me.
I look back on all those years and all those jobs and I think to myself, how did I end up so blessed to have so many amazing experiences in which I was basically a witness to others’ beautiful lives? To so much of life’s beauty? The sorrows, struggles, suffering, but also the joys and celebrations and awakenings? The only answer I have is to say that God is good, all the time.
Finally, after all the meandering, the journeying near and far, the waiting and wondering and working, in 2013 I responded to that inner longing that had been brewing in my heart for 20 years and I went back to school to get my master’s degree in theology. In May 2016, I graduated from Andover Newton Theological School with an MA in Theological Research, with a concentration in Christian Spirituality. As part of a cross registration agreement among all the Boston area seminaries, I was very blessed to have been able to take 1/3 of my classes at Boston College's School of Theology and Ministry.
Being able to immerse myself in the theology and spirituality of so many holy women and men reminded me of something I already knew from my own journey so far: none of us travels alone. We are all companions, and we are all companioned.
I have deep trust that where God is calling me now, with the benefit of fresh prayer and study these past few years, is to be that companion for others in a way that is explicitly and unabashedly spiritual. I want to create and hold the space for us to be with God and one another. And in doing so, I hope to give others a taste of the gifts and graces I’ve received these many years.