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Religion: For St. Dismas

2 minute read

His real name is lost in antiquity, but he is known as St. Dismas. He is the patron saint of those condemned to death. Dismas was the “Good Thief” who was crucified on Calvary alongside Jesus, who said to him: “This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.” This poor saint’s feast day (March 25) gains him no great devotion, for it coincides with the vastly more important feast of the Annunciation.

Few years ago in Chicago St. Dismas came into his own. The Good Thief attracted the whimsical but devout interest of a convert to Roman Catholicism, Dempster MacMurphy of the Daily News. Orator, raconteur, ex-song-&-dance man, MacMurphy was a well-born Southerner who added a “Mac” to his natal Murphy simply because there were no MacMurphys in the telephone book. He made a fortune as a vice president in the Insull empire, lost it in the crash, slept on park benches until he got a job on the News. One of his first News stories was about the feast of St. Dismas, which MacMurphy had a hard time persuading his managing editor to run. It was printed in the back of the paper, among the want-ads.

Newsman MacMurphy’s fortunes advanced. Finally he became the News’s business manager. Every March 25 his St. Dismas piece crept a little nearer the front page. And on that day MacMurphy would write again the homely praises of his favorite saint: “There are so many better advertised saints, all specialists, that few mortals bother much with this hoodlum saint, who roams the outfield of eternity, making shoestring catches of souls—a saint who has no following to speak of, no medals, no propaganda. There’s nothing to recommend him, really, except the fact that to no other saint in the calendar did the Son of God make the witnessed statement: ‘You fill the bill.’ Which helps explain why those who do believe in Dismas believe in him all the way.”

If St. Dismas gets his News story this month, it will be partly as a memorial to Dempster MacMurphy. For this friend of St. Dismas, after long illness, died last week at 42.

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