LAST Saturday, December 12, marked the 15th anniversary of Fr. Gratian Murray’s entry to heaven. A Marian priest to the core, on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, it was witnessed by many that during his last breaths, his arms were stretched out as if holding the hand of someone. For most, the belief is that it was Our Lady who escorted Father Gratian into his heavenly home.
Harry Murray of North Philadelphia joined the Christian Brothers in 1939 after his freshman year at La Salle High School. He was professed a Christian Brother in 1947. In Pittsburg, he taught at Central Catholic before taking over as Dean of Students at St. Francis Vocational School for Boys. After five years, he volunteered for mission duty in 1954. He was then sent to the Philippines. That mission became a big, big blessing to us.
Fr. Gratian immediately immersed into his new community. Affable and approachable, his friends knew no borders. From the poorest of the poor to the most prominent in society, he was warmly welcomed and he had long, lasting friendships.
In the late 1950s, Fr. Gratian Murray, while visiting the city jail, was shocked to see young prisoners were together with the adult ones. He realized that the reason the boys committed these crimes was because they were either orphans or abandoned. This prompted him to approach his close friend, the late Col. Alcadio Lozada. Together with other concerned citizens, they organized the Police Advisory Council.
On May 1, 1960, with the support of the City Police and the city officials and the generosity of Negrenses, the Bacolod Boys’ Home was established at Barangay Granada. The Boy’s Home grew further when the Lopez-Lizares and the Bantug Family donated 6 hectares of land. On September 12, 1965, a home for 20 boys was constructed.
Fr. Gratian helped organized the St. Joseph High School (SJHS) in 1960 to accommodate the graduates of the Immaculate Conception Free School jointly run by the De La Salle Brothers and the Young Ladies' Association of Charity (YLAC). The school was established on a 1.3-hectare lot donated by Alfredo Montelibano Sr. to the De La Salle Brothers.
The school opened with 45 graduates and charged minimal fees. Bacolod's affluent families shouldered the construction of the classrooms, library, science laboratories, work education building, as well as other financial needs. In 1966, the Brothers decided to open an adult night high school to serve adults like the ones in Boys’ Home who worked during the day but still wanted to pursue their education. St Joseph’s High School remains in operation as a coed institution under the name of St. Joseph’s-La Salle.
Not content with just being a Christian Brother, Fr. Gratian was ordained into the priesthood in 1969 as Fr. Gratian Murray, AFCS.
The Bacolod Boys' Home became a non-profit and a non-stock corporation. Then a Foundation was established to ensure the continuation of its program.
In 1978, again not content with just being a religious on a mission to the Philippines, he applied for Filipino citizenship and was granted one.
Around 1980, he established the Saint Dominic Savio Vocational Course to give four-year vocational training skills on: Basic Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Bamboo Craft, Diesel and Auto-mechanic, Driving, Basic Electricity and Electronics. Other programs followed like candle-making, poultry, piggery, goat and cattle rising, cows, and bakery to make the boys more self-reliant.
Furthermore, he went into a temporary agreement with the Salesians of Don Bosco thru Fr. Edgardo Espiritu, SDB, his former student at La Salle Bacolod for a vocational course and elementary school in 1988 to cater to the younger children and the nearby haciendas and sugar workers of the barangay. It grew into a high school education.
There are many humorous stories about how Fr. Gratian would be able to raise funds for his projects. Whenever he had a dilemma, he would approach women and wives of important and influential men in the province. They were the angels who would figure out how, where, what and whom to address the problem.
Fr. Gratian was picture of simplicity, sincerity and purpose. No one had the heart to refuse this saintly man. He kept nothing for himself. Everything given was for the children. His shoes were soiled, his “sotana” had many stitches to repair the tears. But he did not have an aura of poverty. He was a man overflowing with God’s grace that his goodness and brilliance radiated straight into your very core.
Another gift Fr. Gratian gave to his friends was his availability and his generosity. He remembered birthdays and anniversaries and would say Mass for them in their homes or in his chapel. He would send my Dad and my Mom products made by the boys at Boy’s Home like candles and other crafts for Christmas and special occasions. To all, he was endearing and a loveable persona. He was greatly loved most especially by the boys in Boys’ Home who saw in him the father they never had.
Father Gratian was plagued with cancer of the skin and many other ailments. He had benefactors for his treatments even if he did not want them. But these people would insist on surgeries and procedures.
However, at the age of 76, on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, he succumbed to colon cancer in Bacolod City, after spending 46 years in this place he had called home.
Immediately after his death, Bro. Gus Boquer and the Christian Brothers collected his things. They believe, these will be relics of a saint who will be canonized by the Church. If not, he is one in the hearts of many.
From the establishment of Boys’ Home in 1965 housing 20 boys, it increased to multiples of hundreds; it has provided free basic education to more than 2,000 boys with promising careers. Many of them are now in the Integrated Police Force; Armed Forces of the Philippines, United States Navy, and other career paths. But the most noteworthy is that by his exemplary life and a model of sanctity, nine of these boys became priests.
Celebrating 15 years after his blessed life and glorious death, let us pray that God will send us more Fr. Gratians. Or in our small, insignificant way, let us emulate this saintly man who walked tirelessly in our streets trying to make it a better place for our children. Fr. Gratian Murray, pray for us!