About the Diocese

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1969-1990 Bishop Alfred M. Watson
and Bishop Murphy

The untimely death of auxiliary Bishop Edward P. McManaman on July 18, 1964, led to Bishop Alfred M. Watson's (1969-1982) elevation as the third auxiliary bishop in the history of the diocese in May of 1965. With the appointment of Bishop Whealon to Hartford in 1968, auxiliary Bishop Alfred M. Watson became the seventh bishop of Erie.  He was installed as Bishop on March 19, 1969.  Bishop Watson was the second native son to be appointed to the Erie See. 

While some notable construction had taken place and a number of programs inaugurated during Bishop Watson's administration, it was a difficult time for most Bishops in the country. Accused of going too slowly in the implementation of the teachings of Vatican II, they were considered to be almost anachronistic and too authoritarian. More democracy was demanded within the structure of the church. Bishop Watson was deeply hurt by the demands made upon him by some of the clergy in the diocese. They often threatened to leave the diocese or the priesthood if their demands were not met. From the late 1960's to the middle 1970's significant numbers of priests and sisters left the priesthood and religious life and sought their vocation elsewhere. Again, the same held true for the Diocese of Erie, but the defections appeared to be smaller than in other sections of the country. Surprisingly, ordinations to the priesthood continued on an even pace. Bishop Watson ordained eighty-eight young men to the priesthood which included a class of twelve in 1975.

By the middle 1970's, the Diocese continued to experience declining enrollment in elementary schools which were eventually closed or joined with that of another parish. Rising costs was another factor in their closure. By 1977, diocesan school enrollment had decreased from approximately 30,000 students to 20,000 students! As a result, the religious education department or the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, as it was then known, took on added importance.

In 1975, Bishop Watson traveled to Yucatan, Mexico to visit the missionary diocese of Merida which had been adopted by the Erie Diocese during his tenure as Bishop. One year later, the mission work done through the Diocesan Mission Office was recognized by a $200,000 grant from Catholic Services to undertake a four-year development program for Yucatan, Mexico. However, due to growing health problems, Bishop Watson's administrative responsibilities were reduced on December 27, 1978 when Bishop Michael J. Murphy was installed as Coadjutor Bishop of the diocese. As auxiliary Bishop of the neighboring Cleveland diocese, Bishop Murphy was named Coadjutor with the right of succession in late November, 1978.

Bishop Michael J. Murphy

Bishop Watson was forced to curtail active participation as Bishop on October 23, 1980 when he fell in his room at the Chancery office and broke his hip. Following surgery and hospitalization, he was released from St. Vincent Health Center, November 18, 1980, and took up residence at St. Peter Cathedral rectory. He officially retired July 11, 1982. Bishop Murphy (1982-1990) succeeded him immediately. For almost eight years in retirement at the Bishop's residence, Bishop Watson's health continued to deteriorate. On January 4, 1990 came the sad announcement that Bishop Alfred M. Watson had died peacefully in the episcopal residence at 205 West Ninth St. His funeral Mass was concelebrated on January 9, 1990, by John Cardinal Krol, who had ordained him a bishop. He was eulogized by his predecessor Archbishop John F. Whealon of Hartford, Connecticut.

Less than six months after the death of Bishop Watson, the clergy and faithful of the diocese were surprised by the announcement that Bishop Murphy's resignation as the Bishop of Erie had been accepted in Rome. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, July 1, 1915, he was ordained a priest February 28, 1942 for the diocese of Cleveland by Bishop James A. McFadden at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Cleveland. He spent most of his years as a teacher and rector of St. Mary's Seminary, Cleveland until his appointment as auxiliary Bishop of Cleveland on April 20, 1976 and consecrated June 11, 1976.

During his fruitful episcopate in the Diocese of Erie, Bishop Murphy tried mightily to implement the teachings of Vatican II. Working with Bishop Watson in 1978, Bishop Murphy began to formulate plans for the reorganization of the administration o the Diocese under the governance model "to improve pastoral services to Catholics". The model, patterned after one used by Catholic dioceses in the 1970's delegated some of the bishop's authority and allowed more participation of women religious and the laity in diocesan administration. The "governance model" was implemented on December 8, 1981, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The change in structure gave the Bishop more opportunities to regularly visit diocesan parishes and institutions, a role he enjoyed.

While coadjutor, Bishop Murphy joined Bishop Watson in writing a pastoral letter on marriage and initiated a policy of marriage preparation developed by the Priests' Senate for all couples planning to be married in the Erie Diocese. That policy remains intact today. In 1982, Bishop Murphy inaugurated the Emmaus program for priests. Its impetus was the concern of both Bishops of the decreasing number of vocations to the priesthood because of the growing stress as well as the changing role of priests in the modern church. To better respond to the these challenges, Bishop Murphy recommended a year-long spiritual renewal program for diocesan clergy which began in June, 1982. The program involved renewal and educational programs at Christ the King Seminary, East Aurora, New York, monthly reflection days, and prayer sessions. The funding of most of the programs initiated by Bishop Murphy was made possible by a diocesan drive which was precipitate by the near collapse of the Cathedral towers in 1984. The goal of the campaign was $12,000,000 but by the end of the drive $14,300,000 had been pledged.

In 1985, Bishop Murphy established a policy of limited tenure for pastors, abolished state fees, and adhering to the code of Canon Law, he ordered each parish to establish finance councils. Additionally, that same year, he announced that Renew, a three-year program to encourage spiritual growth in all of the parishes of the diocese would begin in 1986. One year later, the Erie Ordinary decided that all diocesan offices would be moved to St. Mark's Center, the former Seminary. In May, 1989, he asked pastors, principals and parish leaders to help him analyze the facts from an independent study that recommended operating fewer Catholic churches and schools on Erie's East side.

On the national and international scene, Bishop Murphy was presented with the first Bishop Loras Lane Award in 1984 for "distinguished service to seminaries in the United States." He has served twice as a member of the administrative committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) and the administrative board of the United State Catholic Conference. In 1980, Bishop Murphy was called to the Vatican for a series of meetings with Pope Paul II and the American Cardinal Gregory Baum to discuss American Catholic seminaries. On July 1, 1990, Bishop Murphy turned seventy-five, the mandatory retirement age for Catholic Bishops. He had already sent his letter to the Vatican as early as December, 1989. But, it came as a complete surprise when it was announced to the clergy and faithful of the diocese in June, 1990.

Bishop Murphy spent most of his retirement living at St. Patrick Parish in Erie. He passed away peacefully on the morning of April 3, 2007, having just received the Eucharist. He was 91 years old.

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