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Molloy mourns loss of longtime religion teacher

Some Archbishop Molloy High School students remember Brother Declan Murray as the jovial but dedicated teacher who taught them religion while others had fond memories of him helping them deal with the ins and outs of adolescence.

At his funeral Friday night, generations of students, colleagues and friends paid their final respects to the instructor and remembered the impact he had on their lives.

Murray, who died in his sleep on Valentine’s Day at the age of 78, had been teaching religion at the Briarwood Catholic school from 1975-2009 and was always interested in the well-being of his students long after they left his classroom, according to those who knew him.

“I think everyone who went to Molloy has a story about him and it’s usually a good memory,” said Molloy alumnus Matt Lavanco, 24, of Bayside.

Dozens of alumni and friends attended Murray’s funeral at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Forest Hills, including the school’s choir. Brother James Mar, a fellow teacher at Molloy and one of his longtime friends, delivered the eulogy and remembered Murray for his amiable personality.

“Declan was exceptionally intelligent, articulate and witty. When he spoke, people listened,” he said in a statement released by Molloy.

Murray, who was originally from Philadelphia, joined the Catholic order known as the Marist Brothers in 1951 and three years later began teaching at St. Helena’s High School in the Bronx, which was run by the brothers. After brief stints at Catholic high schools in rural Massachusetts and Miami, Murray returned to St. Helena’s and remained active with the Marist organization.

He liked to volunteer his time at the Marist Brothers’ 120-acre retreat house in upstate Espous, N.Y., where he was buried Saturday, and pushed his fellow instructors at other Marist schools to use the space for their functions.

“He loved Espous and did not want it to be underused,” said Joe Sommo, Molloy’s alumni communications director, who graduated from the school in 2003.

Murray suggested to Mar that Molloy use the space for its school retreats and the Queens school began sending students, aka Stanners, there in 1973. The Molloy staff was impressed with Murray’s passion for helping teens and after they hired him to teach at the school in 1975, he immediately began enhancing the Stanner spirit.

In 1977, he helped to establish Molloy’s freshman camp program, where incoming students would spend a week at the Espous retreat house and meet their new peers and teachers.

“It lets them get comfortable and diffuses some of the anxiety that comes with arriving at a new school. Ask any kid that went to freshman camp and they’ll tell you how great it was,” Mar said in a statement.

When students arrived in Murray’s classroom, the fun did not stop. He engaged the students in serious conversations about the Catholic faith, but always found time to throw in a few jokes before the teens went off to their next period.

“He was great at making you comfortable in class,” said Sean O’Sullivan, 27, of Middle Village, who graduated from Molloy in 2002.

He kept in touch with the students for years and always welcomed them back to his class on several occasions. Lavanco worked with Murray for several summers at the freshman camp after he graduated from Molloy in 2004 and remembered driving the teacher around the compound in a heavy Jeep.

Lavanco is currently studying at St. John’s University for his master’s degree in counseling and said he was influenced by Murray’s experience as a teacher.

“He’d make sure I was working towards something. He always kept track of me,” he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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