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Sanctae Crucis Award Recipients 2014

James P. Murphy '62

With skill and compassion, Dr. Jim Murphy has led his life as clinician and healer shaped by Ignatius Loyola’s principal of the “Magis” -- that is, a life not structured do more, but a life that digs deeper and discerns how best to make a difference in the lives of the people he is called to serve.

For Jim, the call to strive for “the more” has been a lifelong journey.

This Bloomfield, New Jersey, native -- a graduate of St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, son of a truck driver and grandson of an immigrant Newark pub owner -- arrived at Holy Cross in 1958. Majoring in biology, he also immersed himself in theology, religion, and philosophy. It was that study and exploration he says helped shaped his outlook on life.  As he once said: “Those courses raised the fundamental questions of what life is about -- about God and about the purpose of life.”

He went on to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey where he received his medical degree. What followed was a decade of graduate education and residencies in medicine (at the University of Kentucky), general surgery (Cook County Hospital in Chicago), otolaryngology and maxillofacial surgery (Northwestern) and otology and head and neck surgery (Baptist and Mercy Hospitals in Nashville).  During these ten years, he also served two years as a captain and flight surgeon in the U.S. Army.

After this top-flight, intensive but low-wage training, Jim might have been expected to establish an income-producing private practice. But he did not. While visiting the Catholic Medical Mission Board in New York City, he met a Canadian priest from Ghana, accepted his invitation to serve people in Ghana, booked passage on a freighter to Africa, and became the medical director for St Joseph’s Mission Hospital

There, he learned what it was like to work in a place where a single doctor can make an enormous difference. 

After two years, concerned for his parents’ health, Jim returned to New Jersey – with a plan to returning to Africa someday.

In 2007, at the age of 66, after his children finished college and he retired from his practice, he made his dream come true. He moved to Tamale, in northern Ghana, and began repairing wounds, facial deformities, and ear, nose and throat ailments; healing and seeing to the health care needs of toddlers, teenagers, adults, and the elderly. He is the only ear, nose, and throat physician providing emergency and elective surgical and medical care for more than 2 million people in northern Ghana.

Today, Jim is back in the United States for only a few weeks each year. Much of his stay is spent seeking donations of medical equipment, supplies and pharmaceuticals. His wife, Cyndy, a retired French teacher and audiologist (whom he told he wanted to return to Ghana when he proposed 30 plus years ago), alternates living in Ghana with Jim and spending time with their four adult children in the United States.

For his commitment to patients, for setting new standards of excellence, for his deep faith and for using his gifts to bring the finest care and support to those suffering; for his consistent selfless service to so many without any thought of the usual rewards, the College of the Holy Cross presents to James P. Murphy the Sanctae Crucis Award.