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Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2007 05:42 pm

“Ripple effect”

What Springfield does, Sister Beth Murphy says, can change the world

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Sister Beth Murphy
PHOTO BY AMANDA ROBERT
Untitled Document Sister Beth Murphy winces when she hears the word “nun.”
Nuns are contemplative women who live in enclosures, she says, whereas she and other Dominican sisters try to live like the Apostles. “We’re out in the world teaching and preaching,” Murphy says. From the moment she entered the Springfield congregation 25 years ago, Murphy understood that she was becoming a global activist. She’s been involved in everything from rehabbing forgotten homes in Enos Park to working for justice in the smelter city of La Oroya, Peru, to meeting with residents of war-torn communities in Iraq. Now that Murphy has decided it’s time for the next step — her last day as communications coordinator for the Dominican Sisters of Springfield is Aug. 31 — she looks back fondly on the life that carried her here. Murphy graduated from Eastern Illinois University with a degree in journalism in 1981, and by the fall of 1982 she had joined the Dominicans. Even though she was familiar with the congregation’s lifestyle, she says, she never thought that she would go down that path. “I had people ask me if I had ever thought about being a sister, and the answer was always no,” Murphy says, “but I felt a call to give myself to God in that way in that point of my life.”
She fulfilled her first duties by teaching in a Jacksonville junior high school for three years, then left to work as the associate communications director for the Diocese of Springfield. After receiving a master’s degree in theology from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and working as media director in various outlets, Murphy returned to Springfield to head up her congregation’s brand-new communications program.
Murphy says that her work in this role has helped her become more aware of what is going on in Springfield and in the world. Even though Dominican sisters in La Oroya had been sending word of their community’s problems with Doe Run Peru for years, Murphy was the first Springfield Dominican to become actively involved with Friends of La Oroya, an international organization calling for an end to lead poisoning and pollution in Peru. She has taken a phone call from the leader of the group, joined members for several meetings in St. Louis, and encouraged her congregation to become more involved. Murphy says that Dominican life has led her on a journey that changed her forever: traveling to Iraq three times as a religious delegate to express solidarity with her fellow sisters. During her last trip, she remained in the country for a month and visited with Dominicans from every convent in northern Iraq. “It was just more or less to be with our Dominican sisters and brothers in that terrible suffering they were going through after the invasion,” Murphy says, “to hear their stories and to let them know we hadn’t forgotten them.”
Murphy says that understanding the importance of this “global reality” has taught her the biggest lesson of her life: “The decisions we make in Springfield do affect the world in some small way. How we treat one another in Springfield and how we respect one another in Springfield has a ripple effect. If we give one another the dignity that our humanity deserves — whether it’s members of the City Council or homeless people sleeping in front of the library — then we’re going to find ways to do that on the state level. We’ll find it in our hearts to find a way for universal health care for this state; then, if we do that, we’ll say, ‘If our children deserve this, don’t the children of the nation deserve this? Don’t the children of the world deserve this?’ ”
Murphy cannot say where she is headed next, but she does say that she will be pursuing a more active pastoral role with the congregation.
“I’ve been professed for 25 years, and I’ve been behind a desk for 20 of them,” Murphy says. “What happens next is going to be a new adventure for me.”

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.
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