King James Bible
There is an old manual typewriter, an aviator’s helmet, and a well-worn buffalo coat that was never buttoned up even in the biting cold of a prairie winter. There are seldom-worn priestly vestments and an ashtray, heavily stained from countless cigarettes. Father Athol Murray’s personal effects only begin to reveal the man whose life and passions are portrayed in the museum at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame.
Most of us equate Notre Dame with hockey, with NHL greats like Vincent Lecavalier, Curtis Joseph and Wendel Clark who played for the Hounds. But Notre Dame has a lesser known claim to fame as an awe-inspiring repository of rare books. I visited the museum with my son Kendall, a student of Classics, Medieval and Renaissance studies, eager to explore the collection.
Our guide is Gerry Scheibel, lifelong resident of Wilcox and a teacher of 35 years. I ask him what it might have been like to meet Father Murray.
“He would sit you down, maybe with a glass of Scotch … he would do all the talking … You would come away with a very lasting impression … I often refer to him as an ordinary person doing extraordinary things.”
Athol Murray was born into an influential Toronto family in 1892. He was only four years old when his mother died. Murray’s father saw to it that his son received a quality education: Loyola College in Montreal, St. Michael’s in Toronto, and St. Hyacinthe College in Quebec. As a young Jesuit-educated man, Murray had fallen in love with the classics.
But Murray was undecided about his future. Dissatisfied with a job as a newspaperman, he entered law school but that did not appeal to him either. A chance encounter with the writing of St. Augustine led him to St. Augustine Seminary and the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church. However, Murray managed to ruffle a few feathers in his first rather conservative Ontario parishes. By the early 1920s, the bilingual Murray found himself in Regina working with Archbishop Mathieu.
When mischievous youngsters were caught breaking into a local church, the sympathetic Murray offered to take the boys under his wing if charges were dropped. He organized a sports club and soon had them playing hockey and baseball. The club proved to be a life-changer for Father Murray and for the boys.
An opportunity at St. Augustine parish in Wilcox led Father Murray to open a school where he would teach self-discipline, encourage spiritual growth and inspire a love of learning and sports. The school, founded in 1927, drew some of his boys from Regina and from the local community.
Scheibel ushers us into the secure room that houses the manuscripts and rare books we have come to see. That this collection should be found in Wilcox is a bit of a miracle. Chalk it up to Murray’s classical education and his passion.