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murray

Priest’s airplane hobby is truly uplifting

By RENEE WEBB, Globe senior reporter
(Email Renee)

For one priest in the Diocese of Sioux City, his hobby is truly uplifting.

Flying with his older brother as a young boy, Father Gene Murray knew early on he loved it.

“I had my first lesson when I was in the seminary,” he said. “My older brother who was a pilot had paid for a lesson as a Christmas gift. That was over 50 years ago.”

Ordained in 1965, the 75-year-old retired priest had obtained his pilot’s license in 1967. About a year later, he joined a flying club in Pocahontas. This gave him access to planes and allowed him to fly between 75 to 100 hours a year.

“Most people don’t understand the pure joy of flying,” Father Murray said. “People fly for different reasons but for me it’s for the fun of it.”

His love of flying has held strong through the years. He has a two-seater RV8, which he built from 2004 to 2007, at the Cherokee airport. It was not his first build, however.

“In 1979, I was assigned to the Varina parish and one of my parishioners was building an airplane,” the priest said. “He was very knowledgeable, a WWII veteran from the Air Force and a delightful friend, who has since passed away. His name was Ed Kelly. I would stop by his place and check on the progress.”

Plane builders

Not long after Kelly had his plane built, Father Murray and his brother, the late Father Ed Murray, decided in 1983 to build a plane.

“We had been watching the progress of aviation and experimental aircraft – it was a big, booming thing in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” said Father Murray, who resides in Marcus. “In those days the kits were pretty rough but I knew some people who were experienced welders.”

Having those contacts helped make the build possible.

The two Murray priests collaborated on the plane.

“I was the primary builder and he (Father Ed) was at Moorland at the time and teaching at St. Ed’s and I was at Varina and doing some teaching at the grade school in Fonda,” Father Murray said. “He would come over on Friday afternoons after school or come over for a couple of days during the summer. We would build together. It was a lot of fun.”

While he usually flies his newer plane these days, he said he will never get rid of the one he built with his brother. Father Ed died in 2009 at the age of 66 after a 21-month battle with leukemia.

“It was something Ed and I did together. I have a lot of fond memories,” Father Murray said. “It’s kind of like your first child.”

He eventually learned the building of an airplane was as much fun as flying it.

“When I was assigned to Marcus, the itch had been there for quite some time and then I built the second airplane and I have helped build two others,” Father Murray said. “I’ve been doing it for 30 years off and on.”

Associations

The priest acknowledged that he is pretty good with his hands and the interest was there. Given the interest in both flying and building, Father Murray belongs to the National Association of Priest Pilots and Experimental Aircraft Association for plane homebuilders.

Last month, he flew to Cincinnati to attend the priests’ pilot convention. Father Murray joined the association in 1976. At one time, there were diocesan priests who were members of the priests’ pilot association but presently he is the only diocesan member. However, he noted, there are other priest pilots in the diocese.

“Every year the priests’ pilot convention is a time to get together and renew old friendships,” he said. “We also make a donation to the various missions that rely on airplanes for ministry.”

Father Murray noted the retired Archbishop of Alaska was a member of the association and he hosted the convention four times.

“We have a member in Tanzania, a Detroit priest who has been there for 35 years,” noted the priest pilot. “He flies doctors out into the bush. And then we had a priest in Mexico who was involved with flying doctors to Mexico.”

He also mentioned the priests’ pilot association has received a letter from the Holy Father, giving his blessing.

While he has not flown for ministry, Father Murray has given rides to those from 8 to 85 years old.

“You’d be surprised at how many people you come into contact with in the aviation community,” he said. “You have contact with people from all over the country. You meet them and make friends with them. While the primary purpose is not evangelization, it sure is a way of reaching out to people.”

Through the years, it was a way of connecting with family. Five of the six boys in his family were pilots.

Besides Father Ed, brothers Joe, Bill and Paul were also pilots. Three of the four pilot brothers are deceased but Father Murray continues to share the hobby with brother Paul of Storm Lake.

Father Murray said he would like to continue flying as long as his health allows him to continue passing the necessary physical.

“It’s been a great run – 50 years,” he said.



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