The two buildings that made up the original Murray House stood as early as 1850 when the Cathedral was still under construction. If buildings could feel, ours must be a proud old veteran, happy in its old memories. Her history is one of service and shelter. Until 1925 she was in the field of medicine. Within her walls she made a home for two Doctors, where they loved and practiced their art of healing. In 1925 she became "St. Anthony's Guild" where the Franciscans made their headquarters for their social apostolate. In 1938 she was not big enough to accommodate the growing Guild which moved to its Marshall Street site. But she continued to serve the Franciscans who needed her for their Girls Club and social center for the people of the area. In 1944 she was purchased by the Diocese of Paterson and became the Catholic Community Center where under the direction of Msgr. Shanley she served as headquarters for C.C.D. office, C. Y .0. and during that time also served as a meeting and activity center for the Knights of Columbus, Hebernians, and Holy Name Society.
By 1957 diocesan offices had relocated. Even though she was over 100 years old was not yet ready to retire. She continued her career of service in Missionary field by becoming a training center for the Association for International Development (A.I.D.). Within her walls missionaries lived and were trained to go into the impoverished third world to work for social, economic and cultural development. In the mid 60's A.I.D. ended their training program and it seemed the time had come for 389 Main Street to take its place as past history.
In 1970, Father John Wehrlen was looking to expand the activities of the Department of Special Education, having a dream to establish a sheltered home for adults with developmental disabilities. He recognized the potential of the old building and he asked the diocese if it was available. Immediately after receiving an affirmative reply, Father Jack began the task of clearing and renovating the old building. She opened her doors to Father Jack and an army of volunteers, many elementary, high school and college students and friends of Father Jack, who cleaned her up carting debris by the truckloads, plastering, painting, repairing. Donations of food, clothing, furniture and money came in. In September of 1971 the house received her first two residents. After more than 100 years she was to begin her most exciting and rewarding part of her history.
Along with her new role she also received a new name - The Murray House. Her new life she received from the dream and faith of Father Jack. Her new name she received from a special little boy, Jimmie Murray. Jimmie was the first born of five children born to Kit and James Murray. Jimmie was a physically healthy baby filling the lives of James and Kit with happiness and joy. When he was six months old however, Kit noticed that often Jimmie would get a tense, frightened expression on his face. This would last only for a few seconds and then he would return to his normal play. It happened frequently enough to cause his mother concern, yet at that time the pediatrician's examination showed nothing wrong. When Jimmie was approximately nine months old, he developed a cold, with a fever of 104. He was taken to the hospital for observation and tests. Jimmie was found to have brain damage. What this meant for Jimmie in the Doctor's words to his mother was that "He will never become the President but he'll always make a living".
The rest of Jimmie's life story and that of his parents could have been a sad, guilt ridden, story. It would be wrong to say that James and Kit accepted Jimmie's disabilities as a matter of course. They placed no conditions on life and happiness. Jimmie had taught them not to take life for granted. Because he could not speak, he taught them to listen in a different way, he taught them to love and showed them the depth of their own capacity to love. Even his little brothers and sister learned and shared their love with him.
Because James and Kit refused to hide Jimmie or over shelter him, he developed as any other child, only a little slower. He took his first steps when he was five years old. At six he spoke his first word, "MA." Jimmie's growing years were never easy. He constantly suffered from convulsions, high fevers and required almost constant attention day and night. James and Kit had one weakness - they were not made of iron. Kit herself was eventually rushed to the hospital suffering from fatigue. While in the hospital, Jimmie's father made the most important and hardest decision of his life. With the help of Monsignor Joseph Brestel, a life long friend, Jimmie's mother was convinced it was best to place Jimmie in a Special School where trained people could care for him. Shortly after Jimmie's tenth Birthday he was admitted to Woodbine State Home. This was to be his home for the next few years. On May 29, 1969 Jimmie's parents received a call from the school. Jimmie had died.
Since Jimmie was one of God's Special Children, it was decided to have friends donate to Father John Wehrlen as it had been Jimmie's parents good fortune to meet this wonderful man of God through Jimmie's aunt, who had worked with Father Wehrlen while he was assigned to St. Philip's, Clifton. Jimmie's parents became very close friends with Father and when Father Jack finally got his home for his special children he called them and asked if he could name the home after Jimmie. Jimmie's memory will be lasting forever in the home named after him. Jimmie's name on the Murray House reminds and teaches us what love means and the limits to which love sometimes calls us. It teaches us too that the greatest service we could give to our family here is the gift that made Jimmie's life happy and full - the gift he received from his Mom and Dad - selfless love.
Jimmie's name lives on today. Murray House is now the longest running group home in the state of New Jersey. In 1992, it moved from Patterson to Clifton and currently provides care for 3 men and 3 women with developmental disabilities. The Murray House Dinner Dance is held annually, in February, in honor of Jimmie, Father Wehrlen and all of the residents who call Murray House and DPD home.