Dominique Murray has always felt drawn to God through her eyes. In her youth, she was attracted to beautiful old cathedrals in her native Montreal. She came to appreciate art through her mother, who enrolled her in art classes and who herself was a talented woodworker, floral arranger and maker of stained glass windows.
As an adult, it’s been one of Murray’s great joys to help design her home parish of St. Raymond of Penafort Church in Springfield.
“I can’t believe that (God) gave me the opportunity to fulfill the destiny He wanted for this church,” she said.
Murray grew up in a region of Canada known for its rich history of Catholicism. But “growing up in the ‘60s, things got kind of weird over there,” she recalls. Her family, though Catholic, did not attend church regularly and she did not receive a thorough religious education even at her Catholic school.
Though there were many beautiful churches in the area, her family attended “a newer one that looked like an auditorium,” she said. “Even at that early age, I didn’t feel any sense of wonder.”
Murray was 16 when her family moved to the United States. She attended St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, before transferring to a school in Houston to study architecture. During that time, Murray had fallen away from God.
“I didn't really think twice about God's place in my life until later, when I met my husband, (David),” she said.
Murray felt called back to the church as she and David began to consider marriage. Though David wasn’t Catholic or even baptized, they began attending a Spanish mission-style church, St. Ann Church in Houston. They participated in marriage preparation with a transitional deacon, who later became the godfather of one of their sons and remains a close friend.
Immediately after getting married, the Murrays moved to Northern Virginia so that David could join the U.S. Marine Band as a percussionist. When Murray became pregnant with their first child, Victoria, she decided to homeschool, which she feels has allowed her to learn about her faith, filling in the gaps she missed as a child. Soon after, Murray had two more children — Adam and Daniel.
The family started attending St. Lawrence Church in Alexandria and was impressed by the atmosphere there, including the rose garden and the beautiful statues. “Father Franklyn M. McAfee (the former pastor) went out of his way to add beauty and sacredness, and that spoke to me,” said Murray. Her husband was impressed too, especially by the church’s music.
“The sacred liturgy that was instrumental in him coming into the church,” she said. After doing more research, in 1995 David was received into the faith. “He felt at home … and he hasn’t looked back since,” she said.
The Murrays starting going to St. Raymond of Penafort in Springfield when it was founded in 1997. Before they had a church building, the community worshipped at West Springfield High School, churches of other denominations and even a fire station, which they lovingly nicknamed the “holy fire hall.”
The difficulties of being without a permanent home deeply bonded the community, said Murray. “When you have to set up Mass at a different venue all the time, it takes a lot of volunteers,” she said. “We were a very close knit parish (and) it was a wonderful time.”
Founding pastor, Father James R. Gould, knew Murray had a background in architecture and asked her to serve as chairwoman of the parish construction committee, which was no easy task. “Usually, you only have one client,” she said. “But in this case, you have the diocese, the church, the parishioners, and it gets to be a lot more complicated.”
Murray and Father Gould were both in agreement that the new church should incorporate artwork from defunct churches as much as possible. They traveled to New York, where they purchased much of the liturgical furniture for the sanctuary. The large stained glass windows on either side of the church are from a closed church in Philadelphia.
Murray then set to work melding these different elements into one cohesive look. It’s eclectic, she admits, “but I think it’s worth it in order to save all the beautiful artwork that previous generations have sacrificed so dearly for.”
Since the building’s dedication late 2006, the parish has continued to add new art. Murray still sees the church as “a blank canvas, with much opportunity to make it more beautiful.” The process reminds her of the length of time it took for cathedrals to be built centuries ago.
“They would take a hundred years to build a cathedral back then. That’s one thing that God has taught with the project — to be patient. Because it is still a work in progress,” she said.
In her personal life, Murray also tries to give new life to religious art, or what she calls, “beautiful relics of our faith.” In her home, she displays a Marian banner that she found at a flea market. In an antique store in her native Canada, she found a tabernacle that was going to be sold as a liquor cabinet. Horrified by that possibility, she and her husband scraped together the money to buy it. The tabernacle is now at Angelus Academy in Springfield.
Murray became pregnant with her youngest child, Jean-Luc, just as the plans for St. Raymond were completed. Many of her children have received their sacraments in the church she designed, including her daughter, who was married there in 2014. “It was very emotional for me,” she said. “I consider this church my fifth child.”
Now and then, she’ll help a friend design a new kitchen or room for their home, but she sees her involvement in the building of St. Raymond as the pinnacle of her career.
“God has brought me full circle from growing up wishing I was in a (beautiful) church to actually being able to obtain a church that is aesthetically pleasing and elevating,” she said. “It’s so humbling and such a wonderful experience.”
Maraist can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @zoeydimauro.