Serving those 'Called to Serve as Christ'

Deacon Pierce Murphy is the executive director of stewardship and development for the Archdiocese of Seattle. Photo: Janis Olson Deacon Pierce Murphy is the executive director of stewardship and development for the Archdiocese of Seattle. Photo: Janis Olson

SEATTLE – Deacon Pierce Murphy has always answered the call to serve. One of seven children in a Catholic family, he worked for his hometown police department in California after graduating from high school.

For four years he worked, attending community college and saving money to transfer to a four-year university. But he neglected his faith.

“My heart was restless,” he said, “but I wasn’t searching for where my heart truly wanted to be.”

In a “moment of real emptiness,” he asked himself, “What’s the point? What am I doing with my life?”

He went to Mass. “I hadn’t been in a Catholic church for a while, and I went to Mass and just felt home, felt drawn in an incredibly powerful way to the Eucharist — and that experience of being drawn just continued.”

‘The call to discipleship’

He transferred to Santa Clara University, where his “adult conversion to my Catholic faith” was deepened.

He “felt the call to discipleship, and had a deep, personal experience of Jesus Christ in my life and wanted to respond to that,” he said. “Having been at a Jesuit prep school and being at a Jesuit university, kind of my first response was, ‘OK, I’m going to enter the Jesuits,’ so that’s what I did.”

He entered the Jesuits in 1979. As a novice, he served in Guatemala and Honduras at the same time as Blessed Stanley Rother, an American priest who was martyred in 1981.

He was sent by the Jesuits to do graduate studies in philosophy at Gonzaga University in Spokane, where he “came to understand that God’s call in my life was to serve him as a married man, as a husband and, if he chose, as a father.” So he left religious life, finished a master’s degree in counseling psychology, and met his wife, Mary Anne. They were married in 1984 and have had eight children, including two adopted sons with profound special needs.

“Grace compelled us forward,” Deacon Murphy said of the adoptions. “We felt that … a greater disability than any physical limitation or intellectual disability was not having a family. We all need to know we matter to somebody. We all need to belong.”

After a career in human resources, he served as the police ombudsman for the city of Boise, Idaho, for 14 years. During that time, he answered the call to enter formation for the diaconate and was ordained a deacon for the Diocese of Boise in 2001. From 2013 to 2017, he served as director of Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability.

Investigating complaints against the police was a tough job. “I can’t remember any time when everybody was happy with any decision I made,” he said. “Sometimes, everybody was unhappy.”

But he understood the work as part of a deacon’s “ministry of justice and service.”

‘Called to Serve as Christ’

Deacon Murphy accepted another challenging position last year, when Archbishop J. Peter Sartain asked him to serve as executive director of stewardship and development for the Archdiocese of Seattle.

One of his responsibilities is overseeing a major fundraising campaign to create a kind of endowment fund to help pay for pensions and medical costs for retired priests, and to provide assistance for women religious (who also receive support from their communities).

The “pay-as-you-go” model is no longer viable, given lengthening life expectancies and rising health care costs, Deacon Murphy said.

The name of the campaign is “Called to Serve as Christ.”

“Our priests and women religious, for well over 100 years in this archdiocese, have answered that call to serve as Christ,” Deacon Murphy said. “They’ve poured themselves out, emptied themselves, as Paul says.”

And the Catholics of the archdiocese have a moral obligation, he said, “to make sure that they have the ability in their elder years to live with dignity, to have the health care that they need.”

The campaign will be rolled out to parishes in four waves through the fall of 2019.

“Because of the great love that we have for our priests and the religious sisters who have served us so selflessly, I have no doubt that we’ll have a wonderful response and a very successful campaign,” Deacon Murphy said.

Kevin Birnbaum

Kevin Birnbaum is the interim editor/associate publisher of Northwest Catholic and a member of Seattle’s Blessed Sacrament Parish. Contact him at