From the very beginning of his new command role at St. Thomas, Fr. James Murphy, CSB embraced the benefit of introspection, not just inspection.
Named on January 31 the third president in the school’s storied history, Fr. Murphy was intent on an ego-less approach to his 100-day action plan that would introduce and reflect his leadership style. He was armed with crossover lessons from his previous positions within the campus community including the Board of Directors, faculty, assistant dean of students, assistant athletic director, assistant drama director and in Campus Ministry.
Communication, patience and precision served as the launch pad for Fr. Murphy to instill confidence and enhance moral within senior administration and throughout the ranks. He discusses his initial 100 days as St. Thomas president.
What would best describe your intent since succeeding Fr. Kevin Storey, CSB following his appointment to Superior General of the Congregation of St. Basil?
“More than anything else I wanted to meet with and confirm the strengths of those around me. I was seeing them from a much different perspective than in my previous years, just as they were viewing me through a much different lens. I wanted to establish the working relationships within our inner circle moving forward and a trust within the team’s collaborative expertise. (Principal) Aaron Dominguez is a phenomenal leader and does incredible work relating to the totality of our academic programs. There’s great respect for Mark deTranaltes in advancement and Patty Miller as the vice president of finance. We have tremendous talent and proven professionals in place in athletics, admissions, counseling and support staff. And I see much of my role as supporting them now that I’m better attuned to their roles.”
What was essential in building rapport and demonstrating connections with key stakeholders?
“The importance of listening is often overlooked and underused in setting an effective tone. I’m studied enough to ask the right questions and have no issue deferring to superior expertise. I’m flexible which is not the same as malleable. There’s a self-assurance to grapple with the breadth and depth of responsibility while understanding overconfidence is often at odds with reality. Smartness is helpful, but so are humility and inquisitiveness. I’m not going to rewrite the St. Thomas story or my own story, for that matter. I hold with great regard the work that has been done here for generations, is being done right now and will continue to be done by those who know what they’re doing. We have a roster of marvelous contributors. I’ve merged the team and set an effective but ambitious agenda for prompt and far-reaching results.”
What is your singular consistent message to faculty, parents, students and donors?
“That there’s a joy that is central to my personality. I’m very positive by nature and I hope to convey that to whomever I’m engaging. I try to be someone who is approachable, respectful, thankful. I value those qualities in moving our institution forward.
“Education is an amazing enterprise. Our faculty are among the brightest minds in their fields, challenging and inspiring students across our curriculum. And in my time at St. Thomas I’ve seen our young men develop in incredible ways, as scholars, and as people. All of them have obstacles in their four years … some more profound than others … some needing more time to figure out the now leading to the next. St. Thomas plays a pivotal role in that process. God is at work within our walls and within our faculty. You can see it in the students as they make their way into the world. And I believe we can be an anchor for them after they leave and throughout their lives.”
Given the ongoing internal dialogues, what’s your insight relating to the Joplin Campus expansion?
“Our master planning today is much different than five years ago when we entered into the transaction with HISD. For example, the renovations to the Basilan residence, an iconic building within proximity to Clay-Story Hall, is now available as a versatile adult meeting space. That conversation opens Mary Moody Hall as a student center. All of which more clearly defines how we are best utilizing the neighboring property. As we continue to better understand our enrollments, our admission priorities, and how we are to serve the campus community needs, the Joplin expansion has assumed a unanimous vision. The impact on athletics will be first and immediate.
“What hasn’t changed in five years is that Houston remains one of the most dynamic parochial and private school environments in the United States. And St. Thomas is uniquely positioned, both physically and strategically, to play a vital role in the heart of one of the nation’s most thriving urban centers.
“The Joplin Campus represents a period of unparalleled fundraising from the St. Thomas community. We have been incredibly blessed by the generosity of our alumni and benefactors involved in the historic 4500Forever capital campaign. It’s exciting to honor that philanthropy with the proper concepts to transform our campus before our eyes.”
How would you qualify the success of the 2018-19 academic year and how are you preparing for increased success in the next academic cycle?
“It has nothing to do with the brick and mortar. It’s not campus expansion and test scores. All of which are unquestionably important, demand expert attention and excellence. And we’ll exceed the prescribed marks. But what strikes me most deeply is the humanity of our campus community. St. Thomas is not immune to real-world problems. It doesn’t take Hurricane Harvey for personal lives to be shaken. In recent years we’ve had to deal with tragedy and its consequences, the loss of life. Again, we’re not immune. Those challenges are never-ending. And I’m extremely proud of how we react to mission critical situations … with intelligence and support … faithfully and prayerfully. That’s been our Basilian identity for 119 years. And that quality will always be the most defining measure of who we are, the best that St. Thomas can be.”
Catholic. Basilian. Teaching Goodness, Discipline and Knowledge since 1900.