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Priest’s legacy honoured with an act of brotherly love

(centre) The Very Rev. Sharon Murdoch, with Bishop Caleb Lawrence (top left), with parishioners in the diocese of Moosonee (top right), pumping iron in the pulpit and playing her bagpipes.

February 3, 2023

By Janice Biehn

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In 1986, Sharon Murdoch spent the summer volunteering in the Diocese of Moosonee in Northern Ontario inspired by the stories from her parish priest, the Rev. Jim Scanlon, who had worked there previously. A teacher by profession, Sharon was so profoundly affected by the trip that she soon enrolled in seminary at Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto. She was ordained in 1992.

Thus began a call to serve in the second largest diocese in Canada. The Rev’d Sharon Murdoch distinguished herself as a caring pastor, incumbent priest at four parishes, passionate about ecumenism and bringing people together. In 2007 she was appointed Rector of St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Timmins and Dean of the Diocese of Moosonee.

But it would be cut short. In 2009 she was diagnosed with Multiple System Atrophy, a disease that robs people of their ability to move or speak, yet keeps their intellect intact. She relocated to her hometown of Kingston to be close to her parents. MSA may have ended her career, but not her ministry. On occasion, when people of Moosonee came to receive medical treatment in Kingston, she would pray with them and continued to tend to their spiritual needs. “My sister had this debilitating sickness,” says Neil Murdoch. “After a while she couldn’t talk any more, but her mind was crystal clear.”

In 2021, 12 years after diagnosis, Sharon died, leaving a legacy of love to the diocese of Moosonee and everyone she met. She also left a gift in her will to support PWRDF’s Indigenous programs, as well as other charities that were important to her. A year later, her brother Neil gave a gift to PWRDF’s Indigenous programs in her memory.

“That’s what she wanted,” he says. Approximately half of the Anglicans in Moosonee are Indigenous, and Sharon enjoyed ministering to them, especially in the Cree language. “She took lessons and picked it up, with the specific intention that it would be part of her ministry,” says Neil. She had a gift for language, he notes, being fluent in Spanish and French, and she was also able to speak German. “[While she was alive] we held an event in Kingston for her former parishioners and quite a few came from up north, from Cochrane and Timmins. Many were Cree.”

“Sharon had a great respect for the First Nations and Indigenous people and got along very well with them,” says the Rt. Rev. Caleb Lawrence, the Bishop of Moosonee during Sharon’s tenure. “Cree are a very humorous people. They love to laugh and tease one another. Sharon had a great sense of humour, too. I used to refer to her as a flaming extrovert.”

Sharon was well known for her pet birds and when she was a student at Wycliffe she could often be seen feeding squirrels in the park next to her residence, or feeding birds from her dorm room window. They grew accustomed to landing on the window ledge, flocking to her like a modern-day St. Francis. She was also well known for her love of the bagpipes and enjoyed playing them for others.

Sharon saw PWRDF as an important vehicle for outreach and actively promoted its programs and partnerships, Lawrence recalls. “She would talk about it at any parish she was in.” Her bequest, along with her brother’s generous memorial gift, will continue to bring communities together.

To learn more about making a legacy gift in your Will, visit pwrdf.org/leave-a-legacy.

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For media requests please contact Communications Coordinator Janice Biehn at (416) 924-9199;366.

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