TORONTO — In her 105 years, Baltimore-born Sister Constance Murphy has lived long enough to see innumerable history-defining moments, including watching the inauguration of the first black U.S. president.
Now the longtime nun, who is said to be the oldest American living in Canada, has a personal memento from Barack Obama to commemorate her long life and years of service — and the U.S. ambassador to Canada made the delivery.
David Jacobson visited Murphy at a Toronto convent Friday to deliver a framed letter on White House letterhead signed by Obama with belated birthday greetings.
“As you reflect upon a lifetime of memories, we hope that you are filled with tremendous pride and joy,” a portion of the note reads. “You have accomplished much over the past 105 years, and your dedication to your faith and community is inspiring.”
Murphy had received a congratulatory certificate earlier this year from U.S. Consul General John R. Nay. She took advantage of that visit to arrange renewal of her U.S. passport.
The presidential note, dated Oct. 16, actually arrived just under two months before Murphy is slated to celebrate her 106th birthday.
But despite the belated acknowledgment of her milestone, the diminutive bespectacled sister, clad in a traditional black habit, seemed appreciative and surprised by the visit and letter, describing it as “a wonderful recognition.”
“I thank all those of you who’ve come,” Murphy said, speaking in a lilting rhythm, as members of the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine based at St. John’s Convent watched.
“It’s just fun to be born,” she added, sparking laughter from the gathered audience. “Where do we go from here?”
Born on Feb. 2, 1904, Murphy came from a middle-class family with a background in newspaper publishing. Her grandfather, John H. Murphy Sr., a former slave, founded The Afro-American, a pioneering black newspaper, in 1892.
Murphy earned a degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania in 1928. She would return to school decades later, earning a master’s degree from the University of Michigan at age 73.
While in Baltimore, Murphy attended a presentation by the Sisters of St. John the Divine in 1932. She travelled north to Toronto four years later to join the Canadian-based Anglican order of nuns.
She went on to teach at the Qu’Appelle Diocesan School in Regina and while there rose in the ranks to become headmistress.
“All I can remember about her really is she was a very busy person, and she was about six jumps ahead of everybody else,” recalled Sister Wilma.
Murphy returned to the Toronto convent in 1955, and was later named administrator of the Church Home for the Aged in 1958, a job she held for more than a decade.
As it turns out, Jacobson didn’t leave the convent empty-handed. Obama, who has written two memoirs of his own, now has an additional one for his library.
Murphy gave Jacobson a copy of her memoir, “Other Little Ships,” published when she was 94. Jacobson promised to pass it along.