Obituary: Rt Rev Bishop Ian Murray, Bishop of Argyll & the Isles

First resident Catholic chaplain of Stirling University. Picture: Contributed
First resident Catholic chaplain of Stirling University. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 15 December, 1932 in Lennoxtown, Dunbartonshire. Died: 22 January, 2016, in Edinburgh. Aged 83.

Ian Murray became the hugely popular ninth Bishop of Argyll & the Isles. Outgoing and approachable, he was the ideal person to succeed Bishop Roddy Wright in Oban in 1999 after the incumbent’s troubled stewardship. He travelled far and wide to calm the waters of the diocese, much of which is Gaelic speaking and includes the West Highlands and the Outer Hebrides.

Tributes were paid by the Scottish hierarchy, who received the sad news of his death at the annual meeting of the Bishops Conference of Scotland in Salamanca.

Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow said: “I would like to offer Bishop Murray’s family our deepest and most prayerful sympathies.”

The President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland added: “During his active years as a bishop, Ian Murray played a full part in the life and work of the Bishops’ Conference contributing with humanity, faith and humour to everything that we did. He will be sorely missed.”

Bishop Murray had a lifelong bond with the Scots College as both student and then a staff member and his portrait hangs in the cloisters there.

Archbishop Leo Cushley, of St Andrews and Edinburgh, said: “Ian Murray was happy priest, a good bishop and a father to his people with a particular corner of his heart for the students of the Royal Scots College in Spain.”

Born in Lennoxtown, Dunbartonshire, Ian Murray was the eldest of the four children of John and Margaret Murray. He began his education at St Machan’s Primary School in the village before moving onto St Ninian’s High School in Kirkintilloch in 1944. Two years later he began life as a seminarian at St Mary’s College, Blairs, Aberdeenshire.

In 1950, he was one of a group of 11 students selected by the bishops of Scotland to reopen the Real Colegio de Escoceses in Valladolid, which had been closed since the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

For the next six years he was a student there, attending classes at a local seminary before being ordained priest in the college chapel on 17 March, 1956, by Bishop Joseph McGee.

Returning to Edinburgh, Father Murray was initially appointed to St Mary’s Cathedral in the city centre by Archbishop Gordon Gray (who later became a cardinal) and within three months he moved to become assistant priest at St Kenneth’s, Lochore, a thriving mining village in Fife.

After a spell as assistant in St Columba’s, Newington, he returned to the Scots College in 1963 as Vice-Rector and in 1970 was made the first resident Catholic chaplain of the then recently founded University of Stirling. He stayed for eight years before transferring to Our Lady and St Bride’s, Cowdenbeath, and St Ninian’s, Restalrig.

In 1987 he returned to Spain, this time as Rector of the college and his first major task was to negotiate the successful transfer of the institution to its present site which is within walking distance of the Place de Mayor in Salamanca.

Bishop Joseph Toal, of Motherwell Diocese, who is also a former rector of the college in Spain and Bishop Emeritus of Argyll & the Isles, said Bishop Murray would be remembered with great fondness after his “fruitful and happy ministry”, adding: “We appreciate all that he did for the Church in our country over the past 60 years of his priesthood.”

When he returned to Scotland in 1994, Father Murray served in Galashiels in the Scottish Borders and then as parish priest in Slamannan and Falkirk before being appointed Vicar General of the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh.

He was nominated bishop in 1999 and ordained on the feast of St Ambrose, the college patron saint.

He retired in December 2008, but he was still a familiar figure in Edinburgh and was a regular celebrant at the Red Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral, which is attended by Scotland’s judges, advocates and solicitors and marks the beginning of the Legal Year in the Court of Session.

Monsignor Jamie MacNeil, the Diocesan Administrator in Argyll, said: “The priests and people of the diocese will make heartfelt prayers for the repose of his soul with gratitude to God for his service and his leadership.”

Bishop Murray spent his later years in residence at St Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral in Edinburgh and then at the city’s St Joseph’s House under the care of the Little Sisters of the Poor.

The new Bishop of Argyll & the Isles, Bishop-elect Brian McGee, said: “It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of Bishop Murray. I will pray for the repose of his soul and join with so many others across Scotland, mourning his loss.”