While burning through their savings looking for a job, the Murphy’s – Gerry, Andrea and their children 3-year-old Maryn and 5-year-old Bernadette - were invited by a Wilmington businessman to stay in his condo this summer until they found a position.
With 10 percent unemployment in this corner of North Carolina, their story could be a common one. But the Murphy’s believe their unique marriage sometimes made it harder to find their right workplace.
A heart tug
After three years in the priesthood serving a Catholic parish in Oakland, Ca., the Rev. Gerry Murphy, an Irish-born Catholic, felt a tug in his heart. He wanted a family, but his vows prevented that.
“I got ordained at 37 in 2001, and I had been in a couple of relationships before that so the whole celibacy issue was a question for me – even on the day of my ordination,” he said.
But Gerry didn’t want to betray his personal integrity by taking a lover.
“I know lots of people right now who are priests and in relationships – gay and straight,” he added. The subject of married priests in the Catholic church has been controversial for hundreds of years. That controversy returned this year after a California bishop admitted he had fathered two children. That revelation came at about the same time the Vatican released its guidelines for married priests from American Episcopal churches to enter the Catholic priesthood.
Since the Vatican’s ordinariate for Episcopal priests and congregations went into effect in January, two married Episcopal priests have applied for consideration to the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, according to Frank Morock, diocesan spokesman. The diocese had two married priests before that. Some non-Latin rites, still obedient to the pope, ordain married men. And after 1980, the church allowed Protestant priests who converted to Catholicism to remain married to their wives.
But Gerry said the issue of more married priests within the ranks of a majority celibate priesthood could cause resentments, though it might help bolster the priest shortage in the country.
When Gerry was struggling with whether or not to leave the priesthood, he weighed having a family with the risk of losing his priestly calling.
“I resolved this dilemma by recognizing that my journey into ordained ministry was a necessary and enriching part of my spiritual formation,” he said, “but there was 'more' I was called to experience and explore in my life.”
He ultimately resigned his post in Oakland, taking time to meditate on his life. During that time, he explored the Catholics Online dating site.
That’s where he met Andrea Kanelopoulos, a devotee to Our Lady of Lourdes whom had once considered becoming a nun.
She still gushes about their first online conversations.
They were engaged after five weeks and married about five months later.
Once Gerry exited the priesthood, he still wanted to be involved in ministry in some way.
“But once you resign, you’re blacklisted from a lot of jobs,” within the Catholic church, he said. And when he did find a job at a Catholic high school, his bosses told him, as a condition of his employment, he couldn’t mention his time as a priest nor why he left the priesthood.
They both lost a lot of their closest friends, “and neither of our families are supportive of us wanting to continue our ministry,” Andrea said.
Gerry and Andrea did find jobs in campus ministry, two funeral homes and running religious retreat centers in Arizona and Virginia.
It was at the Virginia retreat center where they met Wilmington and Winston-Salem businessman Tom Harris. He met them shortly after they had resigned from the center to take another position in California.
But that position had fallen through. Harris offered them a place to stay in Wilmington while they searched for their next opportunity.
“When I learned that they were losing both Gerry's job and their home, it just seemed like the natural thing to do to reach out and help them,” Harris said. “Just imagine what a difference it could make if the head of a major bank that owned thousands of empty foreclosed homes decided to open the doors of those unused homes to families in the same situation as Gerry's family.”
Spiritually, Gerry has changed. He no longer considers himself Catholic. The couple has considered starting their own church or retreat center.
“I think the future of the church is in small, basic communities,” he said. “The Catholic church is stuck. It’s not relevant to where people are in their walk today. I don’t have any bitterness. I’ve just outgrown it.”
His wife is in a different place.
“Growing up in a strict Catholic family, I have a strong devotion to our lady,” Andrea said. “And if the church changed today and allowed priests to marry and ordained women, I’d be there.”
Each coped with joblessness in different ways.
Andrea prayed nightly at her computer’s web cam to the grotto in Lourdes, France, where St. Bernadette had her visions of Mary.
“I enjoy the rosary still as it carries a deep closeness for me. When I can, I meditate/pray. This is where my gift of faith comes in as well,” she said.
Through the trials of this summer, Gerry was reminded of Jesus’ time in the tomb, “that apparently inert time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, when the seeds of new life and transformation are germinating - albeit imperceptibly.”
In early August, the Murphy family’s wait was over. They were hired as directors at a winery in New Jersey.
They’re relieved and ready to wrap their arms around a new adventure.
“When we embrace the unknown, the field of all possibilities,” Gerry said, “we surrender to the creative mind that orchestrates the dance of the universe.”