Debt and Disease No Match for St. Joseph

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By Marc Massery

When Stephen Murphy of Morgantown, West Virginia, discerned that he wanted to apply to the Marian Fathers in 2018, he had two obstacles blocking his path: college debt and chronic illness.

"It was a really difficult situation," he said.

College Debt
Stephen went to Franciscan University of Steubenville beginning in 2001. During high school, he felt as though he were hanging out with the wrong crowd, so going to Franciscan helped him start living his faith.

"It was quite a change coming to Franciscan," he said. "It was like, 'Oh, this is the way life could be.'"

He majored in anthropology, history, and theology; started going to daily Mass and praying the Rosary regularly; and made many friends who were a good influence on him. After graduating from FUS in 2006, Stephen spent many years trying different jobs and ministries. After making financial mistakes and never settling on a career, Stephen never made much progress paying down his student loans.

When he applied to the Marian Fathers, he was working as a Marian Missionary of Divine Mercy in Lee, Massachusetts. Having been exposed to the Marians' spirituality, Stephen knew what to do when faced with obstacles — he turned to prayer.

"I owe a lot to St. Joseph because I prayed two 30-day novenas [to him]," he said.

But he didn't just sit back and hope God would figure it out. He left his job as a missionary to go back to work to try to pay down some debt himself. Ultimately, however, it was the generosity of others that made the difference.

"People were donating ... and I paid off several thousands of dollars in student loans in just a couple months," he said.

Lyme Disease
With the student loan debt in check, there was still another obstacle blocking Stephen's path: chronic Lyme disease, a bacterial infection primarily transmitted by ticks that affects more than 300,000 people in the United States annually. It's known as the "great imitator" because its symptoms mimic so many other diseases, making it difficult for doctors to diagnose.

Stephen first noticed symptoms while working in ministry in Virginia. "I knew the job was difficult working for the Church, but I found out afterward that [it was] Lyme [that] was kicking my butt," he said. Stephen was diagnosed by a Lyme specialist in the summer of 2014. "By that time, I had already had it for a year," he said. Since Stephen's treatment was late, his condition had become chronic.

"It can really mess up your life," he said.

Over the years, he's tried many different types of treatments, none of them lasting. "They seem to work for a little while, but then everything would be back to where it was," he said. "There are the physical symptoms, but it can also affect you psychologically.

"I had just about every symptom you could imagine," he continued. "But it was my faith in God and belonging to the Church and having that support in prayer that kept me going. I don't know where I'd be without faith. I've gone through some very serious suffering. There were dark times in which I didn't know if I wanted to live anymore. I was holding out hope for either a miraculous healing or the right treatment that would finally work. As difficult as it has been, it's strengthened my trust in God, and I've moved forward [through] seemingly impossible odds, these mountains before me, by having this faith and trust in God. The Holy Family have removed [these obstacles], and things have kept moving forward."

Once again, it was the generosity of others that ultimately helped Stephen continue with his application to the Marian Fathers. "Some friends paid for my treatment, and I was feeling healthier because of it," he said. "So, I could finish the application, and the next thing I knew I was with the Marian Fathers."

Today, Stephen is in his first year of temporary vows with the Marian Fathers, studying philosophy at Franciscan University of Steubenville, back where his journey began.

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- Apr 4, 2021

I am really inspired with this story of Bro. Stephen & God's miracle upon his life. Please Mr Marc can I get in touch with Stephen? I did appreciate that favour done to me.

Jing - May 9, 2020

Thank you, Stephen, for your story. You’re young & w/ lots of promise. I am retired now & faced w/ debt from helping my parents which I consider as a filial responsibility. I am also suffering from osteoarthritis & gout at present. I leave my faith to God. I will pray for you, too.

Mary Ellen Fosso - May 8, 2020

Our Lord and Lady protect you... I'm so happy that I can help support you and other seminarians with my small (widows mite) donation every month. God Bless You and you are in my prayers!!!!

FN - May 8, 2020

Congratulations Stephen, as someone with a chronic illness myself (in my case Crohn’s disease) I know what it’s like to feel held back by health issues. The fact that you were able to overcome this obstacle is an inspiration to me. Prayers for you as you move forward in your vocation.