Fr. Donnan Murray, OFM

Fr. Donnan Murray, OFMA native of Olyphant, Pa., Fr. Donnon Murray, OFM, was received into the Franciscans in 1950 and ordained a priest in 1956. In his first assignment, he taught for a year at the minor seminary of Holy Name Province in Callicoon, N.Y. Then in 1958 he volunteered to serve in the Province’s new mission field in Japan. Between 1961 and 1987 he served at parishes in Kiryu, Isesaki, Ota and Maebashi. For the past 13 years, he has been assigned to the Franciscan Chapel Center in Tokyo, while also traveling worldwide as a team priest for Marriage Encounter weekends.

Fr. Donnon Murray, OFM, believes couples and families who pray together, stay together. For the past 27 years, Fr. Donnon has been involved with Marriage Encounter weekends, a program designed for couples who are interested in learning how to deepen their relationship and union with God, one another, their children and extended families. Fr. Gabriel Calvo established Marriage Encounters in Spain in the early 1960s, not as a substitute for marriage counseling, but as an opportunity for couples to deepen their relationship with one another through more effective communication. Fr. Donnon first introduced Marriage Encounter weekends to the Japanese in Gumma, more than 20 years ago and their popularity has grown ever since.

“It’s an experience that allows you to realize the need to let Jesus into your life and utilize the word of God,” Fr. Donnon said. “It’s a very spiritual experience.”

The encounters, held in more than 90 countries, are open to all married couples who acknowledge the need to improve the communication in their relationships.

“These weekends provide an atmosphere where people can open themselves up to each other and recognize the need for God in their lives,” said Fr. Donnon. “Most people do not experience themselves and therefore can’t share deeply with others.”

Marriage Encounter is one component of 20 programs designed by Fr. Gabriel to deepen family life and communication. The programs are run under the umbrella known as FIRES, an acronym that stands for families, intercommunication, relationships, experiences, and services.

Although Marriage Encounter is designed for couples, FIRES also offers “Sons and Daughters Encounter,” a program for those aged 13 and up that includes teaching communication skills.

“It asks what is faith and is religion something I got from my parents, or is it something I can and should experience,” Fr. Donnon said. “It also asks what it means to be a son or daughter of God”

As a result of his involvement in leading encounters, Fr. Donnon has witnessed hundreds of saved marriages and thousands of those willing to convert to Catholicism, despite the fact a majority of the Japanese population is Buddhist or Shintoist. Fr. Donnon believes Marriage Encounter is effective among the Japanese due to the testimony of those who have discussed its benefits with their family and peers.

“Word of mouth is big,” he said. “From an evangelical point of view, there is nothing in this country that brings people closer to God faster than these experiences. There is nothing else you can point to that is a catalyst for people meeting God.”

— This essay was written in 2001 when Fr. Donan was assigned to the Franciscan Chapel Center in Tokyo. It appeared in the March 2001 issue of The Anthonian magazine.