The church is eternal; popes and bishops come and go. William J. Murray has been somewhere in the middle.
Murray, 66, is retiring today, Aug. 31, for, he says, afternoons of “bon-bons and soap operas,” but he’s been both a steady presence and an influential figure in the Diocese of Camden for more than 37 years.
For more than three decades he’s had his finger on the pulse of the diocese as its chief financial officer, a position that demands balancing evangelical zeal with real world practicalities, Christian charity with limited resources, and lofty ideals with hard numbers. For Murray, that didn’t mean his job was to put limits on ministry. Instead, it meant using his financial skills, determination and foresight to accomplish as much as humanly possible.
With a master’s degree in business administration from Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, Murray was hired by the diocese in 1981 as assistant director of long term care, and a few years later was named director of real estate and housing (and given instructions to find out how he would go about getting a real estate license).
Bishop George H. Guilfoyle was ordinary and Auxiliary Bishop James L. Schad was vicar general at the time, and soon they needed a secretary for administration — essentially a CFO for the diocese. When they learned that Murray had been offered the same position in another diocese, Bishop Schad told Murray they’d talk about it when he returned from his vacation. The talking-about-it amounted to Bishop Guilfoyle sticking his head into Murray’s office one day and saying, “That job Bishop Schad talked to you about? You have it. Congratulations.”
So Murray — who since 1980 has been married to the same woman, lived in the same house and belonged to the same parish — has held the same job since 1987.
Superficially, it might appear that the biggest change in his career has been when the diocesan offices were relocated and his office moved two miles from the southern edge Camden to the city’s business district. After all, over the years his job has consisted of meetings, meetings and more meetings. (“The job is mostly meetings,” he said. The rest of it, he added, is preparing for meetings.)
Yet the Camden Diocese he’s retiring from is not the one he started his career at, and working on an ever-changing landscape means his job has never been routine.
Consider: Today the six counties of the Diocese of Camden include 475,000 Catholics, but the year he was hired, 1981, there were less than 350,000. On the other hand, while the number of permanent deacons has nearly doubled, the total number of priests in the diocese has shrunk from 418 to 249, and the total number of religious sisters from 583 to 220. Correspondingly, today there are 65 parishes, about half of what there once were, and there are also fewer schools and students.
The trend in corporate America has been to broaden a CFO’s responsibility, from mostly monitoring a company’s finances to more data analysis and, increasingly, taking on an advisory and policy-making role. Murray’s position in the diocese has also evolved in that direction. The issue that once defined his job — “Can they afford it?” — often became, “We need to do it. How do we make it work?” Or, “Is it worth taking a chance on this program? Is it worth going into debt for?”
Murray’s expanded role came at what became some of the most challenging times in his career: When Bishop Joseph Galante initiated a widespread merger process for the parishes in 2007 and — what caused Murray even more sleepless nights although it was accomplished much more quickly — when the diocesan workforce had to be reduced.
All of that, of course, coincided with the 2008 market crash.
“It was a particularly stressful time,” Murray said.
Those who have worked with Murray tend to comment on both his professional abilities and personal qualities, as if the two were inseparable.
Joe DiFilippo, the Finance Council chair, described Murray as “one of the finest Christian men I know,’ as well as “the epitome and master of his role as the ‘Gate Keeper’ for this diocese’s financial matters.”
Msgr. Roger E. McGrath, who worked with Murray extensively in his previous role as vicar general, expressed the same sentiments.
“Bill has the amazing capacity to pull together the complexity of an issue, even the most difficult, with full attention to its pertinent details and developmental history. Furthermore, he combines this comprehensive contribution of financial analysis and ecclesial management with a ‘hands-on’ pastoral sensitivity to the mission of the Church to spread the Gospel of Christ,” said Msgr. McGrath, currently pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Parish, Turnersville.
“Above all,” he added, “Bill is the epitome of the Catholic Gentleman, more than a model of Christian service, he is truly an inspiration.”
Patrick McGrory, vice chair of the Finance Council, said that Murray “always in every decision focussed on the impact to the faithful in our diocese.”
“We focussed on the facts, on the potential outcomes, always seeking to do what is best for the Catholic Community of South Jersey,” McGrory said, noting Murray’s institutional memory and calm demeanor. “Bill’s decisions and leadership has improved the lives of everyone in our diocese.”
Despite his influence, Murray has always considered what he and his staff did as “strictly support for the pastoral side.”
“The pastoral is what’s important,” said Murray, who in recent years earned a master’s degree in moral theology. “Having said that, without temporalities, nothing could get done.”
During the last three decades, did he ever consider working in the private sector, considering the U.S. Department of Labor reports that the median pay for financial managers in 2017 was $125,080 per year?
“No, not really.”
He says he has learned two things — and he is adamant when he talks about them.
The first, said Murray, whose brother is an Augustinian priest, is that God “absolutely” calls certain men and women to ordained ministry and religious life. And, he emphasized, God also calls laypeople to specific roles.
The second is that, even with dealing with the hard realities of finance, there is no need to create a cold, impersonal work environment, much less one based on fear and intimidation. What he is most proud of, Murray said, is the working relationships he’s built over the years.
Debbie Cutter, his executive secretary for four years, describes him as “a very kind, humble man who treats people with respect and kindness.”
“Not a day goes by that he doesn’t say or do something that makes me laugh or that he doesn’t thank me for the work I’ve done,” she said.
Relationships, Murray suggests, should be steadier than the economy, which inevitably goes through cycles of growth and decline. Much of Murray’s job, in those countless meetings, has been helping the diocese navigate and, perhaps more importantly, prepare for them.
While he will no longer be actively involved in planning for the future of the diocese, he is optimistic about it. “The Catholic Strong campaign is absolutely essential for us,” he noted. “This is a really good thing; it will put our diocese and parishes on firm footing.” Naturally thinking in terms of a businessman’s five-year strategic plan, he added, “Overall, I think the diocese will be stronger in five years than it is now.”