• ‘I didn’t know it, but I must have been an entrepreneur at heart’

    Monsignor Terrence J. Murphy, the former president of the University of St. Thomas and a key figure in the creation of the university’s graduate programs in business, died month-date.

    He was 83 and had served St. Thomas for 50 years. Murphy was president from 1966 to 1991, and at the time of his death was the university’s chancellor.

    “When I spoke to my first board of trustees meeting in 1966, I said St. Thomas was doing well and I didn’t anticipate any great changes,” he recalled in an interview two years ago. “But then we started building, and our big growth started coming after the Vietnam War was over. I didn’t know it, but I must have been an entrepreneur at heart.”  Murphy spent the early years of his presidency addressing St. Thomas’ finances and laying the groundwork for changes that would begin in the mid-1970s. During a 1973 brain-storming walk with Dr. Charles Keffer, then dean and vice president for academic affairs, they pondered how St. Thomas could best meet the region’s educational needs.

    The next year St. Thomas launched a master of business administration program with 76 students. That program, which later became the College of Business, experienced explosive growth and served as a model for the host of professional graduate programs that followed.

    In 1975, St. Thomas established an evening and weekend division for nontraditional students, and two years later became coeducational at the undergraduate level.

    Murphy also led the college through two capital campaigns, Priorities for the 80s and Century II, which helped underwrite St. Thomas’ expansion in St. Paul and elsewhere. He accepted the gift of the rural Owatonna home and estate of his friend, Daniel C. Gainey, which led to the 1982 opening of the Gainey Conference Center. Two years later, in 1984, he accepted a gift from the Peavey Co. that became St. Thomas’ Chaska Education Center and an incubator for small businesses.

    The success of those undertakings led him to test the waters in downtown Minneapolis, and in 1987 St. Thomas began offering classes at a remodeled department store. That led to the opening of a permanent campus in 1992. The original campus building at 10th Street and LaSalle Avenue, now the College of Business headquarters, was named Terrence Murphy Hall in May 2000. With the new campuses and host of new graduate programs, Murphy decided in 1990 to restructure St. Thomas into a collection of graduate schools and an undergraduate division, and to change the name from “college” to what it had become under his watch – a university.

    “I never sat down and said, ‘I have this big vision for the college,’ ” Murphy once told a St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter. “I wanted to hold fast to fundamentals – the college’s liberal-arts character and its Catholic character. I was concerned with being open to the people, the students. I had ideas, not visions. And the college evolved.”

    That 25-year evolution saw St. Thomas:• Become coeducational and a university.• Expand its graduate programs from one to 13, including its first two doctorates.• Grow from 2,167 students to 9,120 students. • Increase its faculty and staff from 257 to 1,324.• Increase its annual budget from $3.5 million to $84.4 million. • Open three new campuses outside of St. Paul.

    “The church and society lost one great man in the death of Monsignor Murphy,” said Archbishop Harry Flynn, chair of the university’s board. “He was a real servant.”

    “I am saddened by the loss of this good-natured priest and friend,” said Father Dease, president of St. Thomas. “Mild-mannered and eminently likable, Terrence Murphy distinguished himself as a wise and extraordinarily successful educator, a remarkable entrepreneur and a true visionary.

    “This university community owes him an immense debt of gratitude. It is one that shall not soon be forgotten.”

    Another friend, David Laird Jr., president of the Minnesota Private College Council, said Murphy was an exceptional leader during difficult challenges for higher education.

    “Monsignor Murphy’s dignity, humility, values of service, and unselfishness were the hallmarks of his leadership. In a generation of outstanding and gifted leaders in our society, he should be remembered as one of those who set the pace.”

    When he retired, Murphy had the longest tenure of any president in Minnesota. Named to a list of the nation’s 100 most-effective college presidents (and one of the top 10 Catholic college presidents) he once cited a study that examined the attributes of 19 highly successful schools.

    “They all had long-range plans … but they didn’t pay much attention to them,” he said. “A plan is not what made the difference at St. Thomas. The difference was being entrepreneurial and the ability to sit back and see the needs, and then have the willingness to meet the needs.

    The middle of seven children, Murphy was born Dec. 21, 1920, in Watkins. He attended Nazareth Hall and the St. Paul Seminary, where he received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy. He was ordained in 1946.

    Murphy came to St. Thomas in 1954. While teaching religion and living with students in Ireland Hall, he began graduate studies in political science. Murphy received a master’s from the University of Minnesota in 1956 and a doctorate from Georgetown University in 1959.

    After returning to St. Thomas, Murphy joined the political science faculty. In 1961 he became dean of students and in 1962 was named to the new position of executive vice president. Four years later, in 1966, Murphy was named president.

    Murphy has been credited with hiring an entrepreneurial staff and faculty, and with giving them rein to succeed or fail. He developed many friends in the region’s corporate and political communities and assembled a board of trustees that proved to be extraordinarily generous and involved.

    “It was fascinating to participate in this process,” Murphy wrote in his 2001 book, A Catholic University: Vision and Opportunities. “It started with nothing more than a desire to be of service.”

    Murphy drafted the book during his years as chancellor, when he had time to step back from the fray and write about the nature of a Catholic university and its role in society. He emphasized the themes of teaching religious and ethical values, ecumenism and openness to those of all faiths and cultures; service; recognizing and meeting community needs; and an entrepreneurial spirit.

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