During her Hands of Christ witness talk this past Jan. 30, Caelan Murphy implored fellow high-school seniors to keep Christ in their lives while encountering new experiences.
But nobody attending the service at St. Mary Our Mother Church in Horseheads could have imagined the experience that was right around the corner.
In mid-March, the coronavirus pandemic began to largely shut down the Southern Tier en route to enveloping much of the world. For Murphy, statewide restrictions to control spread of the virus have greatly impacted her busy lifestyle.
“Senior year, you’re going and going and going. And all of sudden, it kind of abruptly stopped. It’s still surreal,” the 18-year-old said, noting that many activities for seniors at Dryden High School in Tompkins County have been cancelled or postponed — including her graduation ceremony.
Whereas she expressed frustration and disappointment at this turn of events, Murphy said that overall, “I’d like to think that I’m doing OK.” For instance, she’s embracing the opportunity for extra reflection time.
“This has slowed everything down for me, so I can look around and appreciate how I got to this point (in life),” said Murphy, who belongs to Ithaca’s St. Catherine of Siena Parish.
“You don’t always have to be going somewhere. Going through your daily routine, you can find joy and appreciation.”
She said that although get-togethers with peers have been curtailed, she’s thankful for the ongoing presence of her parents, Kathleen and Daniel; sister Maggie, 15; and brother Danny, who will turn 13 years old on June 5.
Murphy said that although get-togethers with peers have been curtailed, she’s thankful for the ongoing presence of her parents, Kathleen and Daniel; sister Maggie, 15; and brother Danny, who will turn 13 years old on June 5.“Just being with the four other people in my house, you find new ways to enjoy them,” she said.
Murphy also strives to maintain contact with friends, noting the importance of checking in with others — “even people you wouldn’t suspect” — who might be struggling to cope with their limited mobility and other aspects of the pandemic.
“Ask, ‘Are you OK?’ Validate their feelings,” she suggested.
Murphy added that she’s been watching Sunday Mass online and keeping in touch with fellow youth-group members via Zoom meetings. Maintaining a connection with her parish is vital to Murphy, whose extensive volunteerism at St. Catherine of Siena has included teaching faith formation, visiting with children and the elderly, taking a service trip to the Dominican Republic in early 2019, and attending the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis this past November.
“She always puts other people before herself, which is something I value,” Maggie Murphy wrote in a Hands of Christ tribute to her older sister that appeared in St. Catherine of Siena’s May 3 bulletin.
Murphy’s dedication to others led not only to Hands of Christ recognition for her, but also to be asked by diocesan officials to address fellow Southern Tier recipients Jan. 30. The gathering in Horseheads was one of three to take place in the Rochester Diocese as hundreds of high-school seniors were noted for service to church, school and community. Plaques were handed to each recipient by Bishop Salvatore R. Matano, who also presided at services on Feb. 3 at Greece’s St. John the Evangelist Church and Feb. 4 at Fairport’s St. John of Rochester Church. Keynote speakers for those events were Aiden Flaherty from St. Martin de Porres Parish in southwest Monroe and northwest Livingston counties; and Jamie Gudyka from Church of the Holy Spirit in Webster/Penfield.
Looking ahead, Murphy said that she maintains “confidence and peace” about life beyond high school despite the COVID-19 crisis. She will attend the University of Maryland this coming fall, majoring in public health: “I’m really interested in health-education programs in Third World areas,” she said.
Murphy acknowledged that due to the pandemic, she’s anticipating new daily living routines to ensure widespread health and safety by the time she begins college. Yet she has a positive approach in place for navigating her short-term future:
“With an open mind and an optimistic attitude.”