Cedar Rapids priest is chaplain for the commissioning committee of new submarine

U.S. Navy vessel will be named after state of Iowa

By Jill Kruse-Domeyer
Witness Editorial Assistant

CEDAR RAPIDS — The people of St. Jude Church in Cedar Rapids know Father Mark Murphy as their parish pastor. But the priest, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, currently also serves in another, rather unique role, one related to an under-construction nuclear submarine.

Father Murphy is part of the commissioning committee for the PCU Iowa SSN 797, a Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarine being built on the East Coast. The priest is serving as the committee’s chaplain.

“The commissioning committee’s purpose is to raise awareness of this new submarine named in honor of our state and to help fund events leading up to the commissioning of the Iowa,” Father Murphy said.

Funds raised by the commissioning committee also will help make the submarine more habitable for its future crew, such as helping to upgrade bunk curtains and the ship’s entertainment system.

Once the new submarine is commissioned, Peter Welch, chair of the commissioning committee, said any leftover committee funds will go toward a perpetual scholarship to provide financial assistance to the children of the Iowa’s sailors and also to Navy ROTC students at Iowa State University.

Iowa has a history of being the namesake of U.S. Navy warships, including one that served in the Spanish-American War and one that saw action during World War II and the Korean War, among others.

“The state of Iowa itself, while landlocked, is bordered by the Mississippi and the Missouri Rivers. These rivers often serve as a gateway to the oceans,” Father Murphy said, explaining why the U.S Navy has chosen to name ships after the state.

Also, Iowa exports extensive amounts of agricultural commodities as well as agricultural equipment, chemical products and avionics equipment, which are all dependent on international shipping, the priest said.

Construction for the PCU Iowa SSN 797 (PCU stands for “pre-commissioning unit” and SSN for “submersible ship nuclear”) began in August 2019. Its christening, when the ship will be formally named, a bottle of champagne smashed against its side and it will be transferred from land to water, is slated for 2021, and its commissioning, when the U.S. Navy will officially take custody of the warship, is scheduled to take place a year after that. Once in service, the Iowa’s crew will include 15 officers and 130 enlisted sailors.

Father Murphy got involved with the commissioning committee after being put in touch with its chairman, Welch, through local people in Cedar Rapids as well as a woman named Kelly Sullivan, an active supporter of the Navy who is the granddaughter of one of the five Sullivan brothers killed aboard the USS Juneau during World War II.

The Archdiocese of Dubuque, Father Murphy pointed out, has a rich his­tory connected to chaplaincy and the U.S. Navy. “Father Aloysius Schmitt, who gave his life during the attack at Pearl Harbor, and Father William Menster, who celebrated Mass at Antarctica, were both chaplains in the U.S. Navy (and both from the Archdiocese of Dubuque),” the priest said.

“The former pastor at Immaculate Conception here in Cedar Rapids was Msgr. Maurice Sheehy,” added Welch. “… A vice admiral, Sheehy was the highest-ranking Naval chaplain ever.” Msgr. Sheehy was also the first pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Cedar Rapids.

The opportunity for Father Murphy to serve as the chaplain for the commissioning committee of the Iowa continues his longstanding relationship with the U.S. Navy. Before entering the seminary, from 2002 to 2007, Father Murphy was in active duty in the Navy. After receiving his training, he served aboard the USS Alexandria SSN 757 and spent time in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the Persian Gulf, and the Mediterranean Sea. He worked with the submarine’s nuclear reactor as well as its exterior communications system.

Father Murphy believes his time in the Navy had a positive impact on his faith and helped prepare him for his ministry as a pastor today.

“The Navy, and the military in general, values tradition and customs, it emphasizes being part of a team, and teaches the importance of sacrifice,” he said. “As a priest, one is part of Christ’s team that is the church.  Our church has a tradition that we have received, our Catholic faith is something we have received that we are called to share, and we are called to share with a willingness to sacrifice to cooperate with Christ for the salvation of souls and the glory of God.”

“In the Navy,” the priest added, “I was honored to serve to protect and promote the United States of America. In the priesthood, and in the Catholic Church, I am blessed to try to do my part in cooperating with the Holy Spirit to build the kingdom of God, particularly at St. Jude.”


Father Mark Murphy, chaplain for the commissioning committee of the PCU Iowa SSN 797; Peter Welch, the committee’s chairman; and three sailors of the Iowa were interviewed on Nov. 27, 2019, on WMT 600 AM by Justin Roberts, a St. Jude parishioner. The sailors were in Iowa to raise awareness of the new submarine, build relationships with the state of Iowa, visit local schools and participate in service opportunities in order to help Iowans in need. (Contributed photo)


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