In a room at the St. Agnes rectory on Front Street in Greenport, past the lighthouse knocker on the door and nestled in a chair among the lighthouse pillows and sculptures, Father Thomas Murray motions to the art covering the walls.
A portrait of Bug Light. A photo of Fire Island’s lighthouse. An illustration of a lighthouse from Maine he acquired 30 years ago, the first piece of his collection. Father Tom reaches over The Monsignor, his beloved 9-year-old yellow Lab napping on the floor, and pulls a small framed pairing off the wall.
“This one is special,” he remarks. It’s the Orient Point lighthouse, created by a North Fork artist. The lighthouse reminds Father Tom of his spiritual calling.
“It’s a beacon,” he says. “Light, scattering the darkness.”
Father Tom is still missing art of the famous Montauk Point lighthouse, something he says he’s sure to get at his next home as pastor of St. Therese of Lisieux Church in Montauk.
After a dozen years as the pastor of St. Agnes Church, Father Tom is moving on when his term expires in June.
“I’m not meant to be here forever,” he says. “That’s the joy of working for God. You don’t know where he’s going to put you.”
When Father Tom came to Greenport in 2002, he had never been a pastor before. He jokes that Greenport “trained him well.” When he first arrived, a parishioner from Greenport gave him two words of warning: “Smile, we like to see a happy pastor” and “We’re all related.”
Greenport’s families seem to have accepted Father Tom with open arms.
Since he became pastor at St. Agnes, the church has expanded its outreach across the community, largely through volunteer efforts.
John’s Place, a homeless shelter run by local churches and synagogues, is hosted at St. Agnes. The church also holds Spanish mass on Saturdays.
“It’s really the people of St. Agnes who have made this a center of support for the community,” he says.
But those who have worked closely with him say Father Tom should take more credit.
“He’s made the parish a welcoming place,” says Sister Margaret Smyth, director of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate. “They would need him and I’ve never heard him say no.”
Father Tom has even opened his own home to his parishioners, hosting 60 or 70 Hispanic parishioners each year inside the rectory to celebrate the Lady of Guadalupe feast day.
It’s not just those in the church who recognize his accomplishments. Father Tom will be honored with an award at the 9th Annual May Mile hosted by Peconic Landing.
“Father Tom is a tremendously caring member of our Greenport and North Fork community who gives unselfishly of himself to everyone,” says Peconic Landing president and CEO Robert Syron. “He has touched many with his kind, gentle nature as well as his sense of humor. He is a true friend and confidante to many.”
Father Tom has a few more goodbye celebrations in store before he leaves June 25. He’ll say goodbye to the couples he’s married, the sons and daughters he’s baptized and the families whose loved ones he’s buried.
“So many of these people, I’ve been a part of their life,” he says quietly. “That, I think, is the hard part. People come up to me at Mass, at communion, and I remember … That’s the sad part. They are my family and it’s always been that.”
Father Tom pauses. St. Agnes’ pastor takes off his silver, thin-rimmed glasses to wipe the tears from his eyes before they can spill out. He then inhales deeply, remembering the advice he received 12 years ago from the Greenport parishioner, and smiles.
“One life comes to an end and another begins,” he says. “That’s resurrection. That’s Easter. That’s what we’re all about.”