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Bishop loses battle with leukemia

Valley mourns loss of 13-year diocesan leader

Staff photo / Allie Vugrincic Bishop George V. Murry celebrates Mass with the John F. Kennedy Catholic Schools upper and lower campus in the high school gymnasium in February 2013.

YOUNGSTOWN — Bishop George V. Murry of the Diocese of Youngstown, loved by the community he served, will be remembered as a leader, champion of education and a gentle presence.

Murry brought his memorable smile and integrity to the Diocese in 2007 and lost his long battle with leukemia Friday, just days after seeking permission from Pope Francis to resign due to failing health.

He was the first African-American and first minority bishop in the Diocese, which marked its 75th anniversary in 2018.

“I think it’s important to realize that during these last 13 years, Bishop Murry touched our lives in a wide variety of ways,” Msgr. John Zuraw, diocesan chancellor, said. “What I remember about Bishop Murry and what I will continue to remember is that infectious smile. Even in the times when things were not going as they should in the church or in the world, his calming presence by that smile told the rest of us that everything was going to be all right.”

Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said he most recently spoke with Murry by video conference at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Even in his condition, he was still worried and looking out for the wellness of his community,” Brown said.

Brown said Murry was a true friend and mentor.

“I will forever be grateful for his guidance in my life and his steadfast leadership in the Valley. The Mahoning Valley will miss his echoing words of wisdom and his reassuring smile,” the mayor said.

“He was a great man and a strong and committed leader not only to the Catholics in the Diocese of Youngstown, but to the community at large,” U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, said. “At a time when we face so many issues that need the attention of good leaders, his voice will be deeply missed.”

Mary Fiala, superintendent of the Diocese of Youngstown schools, said Murry always promoted the value of Catholic education.

“One of the things he missed when he was ill or recovering was not being able to visit the schools and interact with the staff and students,” Fiala said. “Whenever he could get to a school, he was there.”

Fiala said students and faculty always were thrilled when Murry came to visit because he always was supportive and affirming of the work they were doing.

“He will be missed,” Fiala said.

Walsh University in North Canton, the only Catholic higher-education institution in the six-county Diocese, issued a statement that called Murry a “dedicated member” of the Walsh family. He was awarded the Walsh University Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters during the university’s 2009 commencement.

“While his contributions were many, his ability to connect with students and the youngest members of our faith community was one of his endearing strengths,” the statement read.

HIS ILLNESS

Murry, 71, died at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York, where he was briefly admitted to the cancer center.

Diagnosed with a form of acute leukemia in April 2018, Murry underwent intensive chemotherapy at the Cleveland Clinic. In July 2019, he re-entered the Cleveland Clinic for a recurrence. At that time, tests confirmed he was in remission and that doctors were not recommending a bone marrow transplant.

Last week, Murry asked Pope Francis for permission to resign due to his health.

Murry was chair of the Committee on Catholic Education until he stepped down in 2018 due to his health. Prior to that, he served on the National Catholic Educational Association and also on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, where he led a study on racism that resulted in a 2018 pastoral letter.

The bishop also served on former Gov. John Kasich’s Ohio Task Force on Community-Police Relations in 2014 and 2015 in the aftermath of the shooting death of Tamir Rice by a Cleveland police officer.

Murry’s last official statement, released June 1, was a response to the May 25 killing of George Floyd.

Murry, along with his brother bishops, stated “that the fight to eradicate racism is a pro-life issue. Racism is not a thing of the past or simply a throwaway political issue when convenient. It is a real and present danger.”

Murry was the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown, which consists of Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana, Stark, Portage and Ashtabula counties.

WHAT’S NEXT

Following his funeral, a group of priests known as the college of consultors will meet and elect a diocesan administrator, who will assume the day-to-day operations of the Diocese until a new bishop is named by Pope Francis, according to Zuraw. That process may take a year or more.

Murry’s funeral arrangements are being handled by Kinnick Funeral Home, Youngstown.

“We were honored to be chosen to do the bishop’s funeral,” funeral director Tom Kinnick said.

Murry was born in Camden, N.J., in 1948.

Kinnick said Friday afternoon that no decisions have been made for a date, time or format for services.

The services, he said, will adhere to state social-distancing guidelines. Those details are expected early next week, according to Kinnick.

Because Murry died in New York, his body will have to be returned to the area.

“We have a lot to consider regarding proper social distancing and everything else,” Zuraw said about the arrangements. He said a local TV station has offered to broadcast services, and services also likely will be streamed online.

Zuraw said although everyone prayed for physical healing for Murry, he experienced a spiritual healing Friday.

“He was welcomed home to his loving God,” Zuraw said.

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