The Rev. John F. Murtha, O.S.B., 79, a monk and priest of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, who served as the thirteenth president of Saint Vincent College, died on Tuesday, April 13, 2010.
A native of Mount Pleasant, he was president of Saint Vincent from 1985 to 1995. During his tenure, the college’s endowment fund was strengthened as he led two successful multi-million dollar capital campaigns. Campus improvements included a life sciences research laboratory, a swimming pool, computerization of the college’s library collection, a new student union, student residence hall, and parking areas.
Advancements were made also in academic programs, alumni and employee relations, enrollment, development, campus construction, community relations, and long-range planning. New academic initiatives he introduced included a multidisciplinary environmental studies program for chemistry and business administration, a teacher certification program for elementary education and early childhood education, a common texts project, and an interdisciplinary writing program. The college’s educational programs repeatedly earned national recognition during his presidency.
Father John encouraged the development of outreach services and activities in the region, including the Drug and Alcohol Prevention Projects, Small Business Development Center, Center for Global Competitiveness, Teacher Enhancement Institute, Center for Economic and Policy Education, a National Science Foundation Young Scholars Program, the Saint Vincent Theatre, and the Saint Vincent Camerata.
“Father John served impressively for many years in this office,” President Jim Towey said. “He was one of a kind and deserves much of the credit for Saint Vincent College’s fine reputation and academic excellence. My family loved his sense of humor and how he laughed even though he was burdened with chronic illness in recent years. He will be greatly missed.”
When Father John stepped down as president, he was honored with a Community Salute organized by the Eastern Westmoreland Development Corporation. “Father John was an extraordinary person whose progressive leadership made a notable difference at Saint Vincent and in the Latrobe area community,” said Mrs. Phil Dymond, former EWDC president. “His love for Saint Vincent, his commitment to its mission, and his vision for its future were clear. Father John was a good friend to many and a capable leader who brought the college and the community of Latrobe and the region much closer. His impact continues to this day.”
Father John was born May 28, 1930, the son of the late Frank and Margaret (Kearns) Murtha. He was one of seven children, including Harry Murtha and Theresa (Murtha) Cox, both of Greensburg. He was preceased by one sister, Mary Margaret (Murtha) Waida, and three brothers, William, Joseph, and Frank Murtha.
He attended Saint Peter’s Elementary School, North Side, Pittsburgh, and Saint Benedict Elementary School, Marguerite. He is a 1948 graduate of Saint Vincent Preparatory School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Saint Vincent College in 1953, a master’s degree in history from Columbia University in 1960, and a doctorate in history from The Catholic University of America in 1965. He was awarded a master of divinity degree from Saint Vincent Seminary in 1985. In 1991 he received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Seton Hill College, Greensburg, and in 2002 he received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree presented by His Eminence Paul Cardinal Shan, S.J., on behalf of Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan.
He made simple profession of monastic vows on July 2, 1951, and solemn profession of vows on July 11, 1954. He was ordained a priest on May 26, 1957 in the Archabbey Basilica by the late Bishop Hugh Lamb.
He served as a prefect and assistant headmaster in the Saint Vincent Preparatory School. In 1965, he was assigned to the Archabbey’s Wimmer Priory in Taiwan, Republic of China. He served at Fu Jen Catholic University as associate professor of history (1966-1971), professor of history (1971-1977), director of American studies (1969-1974), and director of the Graduate School of History (1974-1977).
Upon returning to Saint Vincent in 1977, he was appointed associate professor in the Department of History and director of the Office of Continuing Education, Evening and Summer Sessions (1977-1980).
He served the Archabbey as prior from 1980 until he was named president of Saint Vincent College in 1985. He served on the Saint Vincent College Corporation (1978-1987), the Saint Vincent College Board of Directors (1978-1981 and 1984-1985), and the Archabbey Council of Seniors (1978).
Following his retirement as college president, he served as president of the Benedictine Military High School, Savannah, Georgia, until 1999. From 2001-2004 he was pastor of Saint Benedict Parish, Marguerite.
Father John was a member of the American Historical Association, China Historical Association and Phi Alpha Theta. He served as a member of the Board of Directors of Latrobe Area Hospital and the Latrobe Area Chamber of Commerce (1985-1991), and was active with the Boy Scouts of America, Westmoreland-Fayette Council.
The body will be received at 3 p.m. Saturday, April 17, in the Elizabeth J. Roderick Center of Saint Vincent Archabbey. Viewing will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday and from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, April 18, in the parlor of the Roderick Center. A vigil service will be held at 7:15 p.m. Sunday in the Archabbey Basilica. A mass of Christian burial will be celebrated by Archabbot Douglas R. Nowicki, O.S.B., at 1:30 p.m. Monday, April 19 in the Basilica. Interment will follow in the Saint Vincent Cemetery.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Rev. John F. Murtha Scholarship Fund, Saint Vincent College, 300 Fraser Purchase Road, Latrobe, PA 15650.