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Father Seamus Murtagh, 85

Started out in Miami, served as founding chancellor, apostolic administrator of Palm Beach Diocese

WEST PALM BEACH | Father Seamus Murtagh, 85, a former Archdiocese of Miami priest who became a “founding father” of the Diocese of Palm Beach, has died.

Father Murtagh spent his entire pastoral life in South Florida and was known for his dedication, leadership and for being a longtime advocate for Catholic education for children of all economic backgrounds. He died Feb. 16, 2021 in West Palm Beach, where he served as pastor at two parishes —Holy Name of Jesus from 1983 to 2000, and St. Ann from 2001 to 2011.

Father Seamus Murtagh is pictured in this file photo visiting with Andrew Floering, left, and Max-Oliver Ducoste-Amedee, students at St. Ann School in West Palm Beach.

Photographer: COURTESY

Father Seamus Murtagh is pictured in this file photo visiting with Andrew Floering, left, and Max-Oliver Ducoste-Amedee, students at St. Ann School in West Palm Beach.

His family of four siblings and 35 nieces and nephews remember Father Murtagh as someone who enjoyed playing cards with his family, and especially enjoyed winning. He was an avid walker and an accomplished Scrabble player. He enjoyed trips with friends and family, and he traveled to Ireland every year. He was fond of saying he led a blessed life, however, many count themselves blessed to have been a part of his life.

“Father Murtagh was my pastoral supervisor for my first summer in seminary and then for my pastoral internship and deacon assignment,” wrote Father Alfredo Hernandez, rector/president of St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, where Father Murtagh taught from 1971 until 1983. “He was a good friend and Scrabble opponent. We debated about moral theology, liturgy, politics, and more, but he taught me how to be a pastor who cares for and loves and serves his people.”

Born in Corlis, Castlerea, County Roscommon, Ireland, Father Murtagh discerned his vocation in his 20s while working in clothing and grocery stores. In 2016, on the occasion of his 50th anniversary of ordination, he spoke to the Florida Catholic about his journey to the priesthood.

He recalled how the priesthood entered his mind off and on and so did a voice saying “yes” and then another saying “no.” But after meeting a novice Marist brother, the young Murtagh noticed how the brother was filled with the Holy Spirit and had a great deal of enthusiasm.

“He was on cloud nine and very happy,” Father Murtagh recalled. “I decided that if he was that way, I should look into it.”

So he attended seminary at Mungret College and St. Patrick’s College in Carlow, and was ordained for the Archdiocese of Miami in 1966. He served parishes in Broward and Palm Beach counties before Miami Archbishop Coleman Carroll sent him to Rome for further studies. Father Murtagh received a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University and upon his return began teaching at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary.

When the Diocese of Palm Beach was established in 1984, Father Murtagh was tapped as chancellor and Moderator of the Curia. His role included working toward the building of the chancery and managing the financial affairs of the new diocese. He ultimately served the Diocese of Palm Beach in many roles, including chancellor, vicar general, diocesan administrator (1990) and — at a time of great grief and strife for the diocese — apostolic administrator (2002).

Although he retired in 2011, he remained a fixture in the local Catholic Church, in presence and example. He served at St. Ann Place Homeless Outreach Center, which he co-founded, by making sandwiches for the hungry. He visited Lourdes Noreen McKeen Residence to spend time with seniors there. On Sundays, he traveled to Holy Cross Parish in Indiantown, where he helped with English Masses.

Father Murtagh is survived by his four siblings: Noel Murtagh, Kathleen (Pat Joe) Hunt, Annie Schultz and Agnes (Ron) Healy; 35 nieces and nephews, and extended family. 

A wake and visitation were held Feb. 22, 2021 at the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola in Palm Beach Gardens, followed by a funeral Mass was celebrated Feb. 23. The Mass was livestreamed and can be accessed at Burial followed at Our Lady Queen of Peace Cemetery in Royal Palm Beach.

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