Obituary of Father John Joseph Murtagh – 1938-2022
Always ready to offer a blessing or a joke, in his warm Irish brogue and with a twinkle in his eye, the Reverend John Joseph Murtagh, pastor of Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Moxee, WA, died Friday, May 20, in the parish rectory. He was 84 and had been suffering from cancer. Two family members from Ireland were with him along with parishioners from Holy Rosary who have provided great care and comfort in his final days.
Fr. Murtagh was born April 5, 1938 in Sligo, County Sligo, Ireland to James and Margaret (Brennan) Murtagh. He was preceded in death by his parents and a brother, Father Patrick Murtagh, who died in the summer of 2019. He is survived by brothers Charlie, Francis and Dennis Murtagh, and sisters Catherine Brennan and Angela Murtagh, along with numerous nieces and nephews, including Catherine’s son John Joseph, who came with Angela to be with Fr. Murtagh and possibly accompany him home to Ireland for a final visit. He will be buried in Ireland following funeral services this week.
After attending Castlerock Primary School, Fr. Murtagh attended high school at the Marist College in Athlone, Ireland. He joined the Marist Brothers and attended the De La Salle Training College from 1958-60. He was accepted as a seminarian for the Diocese of Yakima in 1963, and attended Waterford University College and All Hallows Seminary in Dublin, where he was ordained a deacon in 1968 and a priest on June 15, 1969, by the Most Rev. Joseph A. Carroll. His first assignment was as associate pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Sunnyside, Wash. Recognizing the growing needs of the Spanish-language apostolate, Fr. Murtagh studied Spanish in Mexico for several weeks in the summer of 1971, then spent a year of immersion studies in 1975-76, returning to the United States able to speak and write fluently in Spanish.
In 1977-78, Fr. Murtagh served as administrator and then pastor of St. Henry’s Parish in Grand Coulee. He was pastor of Christ the King Parish in Richland from the summer of 1978 to 1983; pastor of St. Andrew Parish in Ellensburg from 1983 to April 1987, then pastor of Holy Family Parish in Yakima until June of 2003, when he began a sabbatical in Arizona. In his farewell letter, which had a horse-racing theme, he wrote that “this West Valley grazing has been good to me … you have strengthened my faith in the Church that I love and hope to serve even better … may the good Lord bless you and your families and give us all a spot in the Winners Circle.”
Fr. Murtagh’s final assignment began June 14, 2004, preceded by major surgery to remove a cancerous kidney. In an email to then-Bishop Carlos A. Sevilla, S.J., he joked about bargaining with God to give up body parts he found to be superfluous “for one useless kidney … so far I have not registered a response.” He recovered well from the operation. The cancer eventually returned and began spreading, and he had been receiving treatment this past year while continuing to care for his parish.
Donations may be made in his memory to the Diocese of Yakima Seminarian Education Fund, or Priest Retirement Fund, P.O. Box 2189, Yakima, WA 98907-2189. Brookside Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
A Vigil service is planned for 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 25 at Holy Rosary Catholic Church, 201 N. Iler St., Moxee, WA, 98936. A Funeral Mass will be celebrated by Most Rev. Joseph J. Tyson, Bishop of Yakima, at 11a.m. on Thursday, May 26, at Holy Family Catholic Church, 5315 Tieton Drive, Yakima, WA, 98908, with a reception to follow in Murtagh Hall at the parish. Fr. Murtagh’s body will be returned to Ireland soon afterward for another funeral Mass and burial in County Sligo, Ireland.