August 9, 2013

Murphy keeps NoCo’s safety net strong

2013 Women of Distinction - Nonprofit Human Services

Sister Mary Alice Murphy dedicated her life to the service of others at an early age. The well-known Northern Colorado advocate for the poor and homeless was brought up with parents who encouraged Murphy and her siblings to pass on the blessings they received to those who need it most.

A small town girl from New Brunswick, Murphy, 81, came to the United States in 1948 to join the Victoria Noll Sisters, a Catholic order of nuns, in Huntington, Ind. She came to Colorado in the 1960s to work with Catholic Charities of Denver. She attended graduate school for social work at the University of Denver.

She was only in town a few months when she participated in a march on the Capitol demanding that the government raise the amount of money people on social assistance received so that it was more in line with what they really needed to live.

“That was my introduction to Denver, and the field I was in reinforced the need to work with people who were struggling to get by and make it and finding it difficult,” she said.

Murphy came to Fort Collins in 1983 as director of Catholic Charities Northern, which served Larimer and Weld counties. Under her direction, the organization built Fort Collins’ first homeless shelter, The Mission, in 1988. The shelter continues to serve Northern Colorado’s homeless and near homeless with food assistance and medical needs.

Since then she has spearheaded many initiatives, including Care Housing, Hand up Cooperative, Homelessness Prevention Initiative, Homeless Gear, The Sister Mary Alice Center for Hope and Homeward 2020.

Because of a car accident earlier this year, Murphy has stepped down from many of her nonprofit activities to focus on her own recovery, but the 81-year-old still sits on the boards of two of her pet projects, Homeless Gear, which provides supplies to help the homeless survive on the street, and Homeward 2020, an organization that provides affordable housing and support services to those in need.

“She is an amazing person,” said Glenn Good, regional director for Catholic Charities of Larimer County. The most amazing thing about her is that when she first came to Fort Collins she “identified a need and had the vision to see the things that needed to be done to assist people in poverty and homelessness.”

Good added that Murphy has the unique ability to bring different groups together to make her visions a reality.

“A lot of people are good managers or good visionaries; It is unusual to see someone who can pull off both of those and get things done,” he said.

Click to read about all 2013 Women of Distinction honorees.

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