WEST HARTFORD – Sister Mary Ellen Murphy (Teresa Joseph), a member of the Sisters of Mercy, died unexpectedly on July 27, 2015, at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford.
A native of West Hartford, she was a daughter of the late James and Lucy Anne Jackman Murphy. She attended the former Mount St. Joseph Academy and earned a bachelor’s degree with honors from St. Joseph College, now the University of St. Joseph. She received a master’s degree from Wesleyan University and a doctorate from Fordham University.
Sister Mary Ellen did NASA-sponsored doctoral research at the University of California-San Diego and the University of Glasgow, Scotland. In addition, she received a sabbatical appointment at Universite Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France. Before entering the Sisters of Mercy, she was a successful research chemist employed in private industry for eight years.
She professed her vows in 1961, combining a scientific career with the ministry of teaching, at St. Joseph College. After 33 years of teaching and research and 15 years as chief academic administrator of St. Joseph’s College in Standish, Maine, she returned to the West Hartford campus as a visiting professor.
Sister Mary Ellen exhibited a unique combination of excellence in teaching, effective academic administration and significant pioneering research in geochemistry and space exploration, and she was acclaimed internationally.
She was co-investigator and one of the first women to analyze the “moon rocks” brought back from the Apollo 11 space flight in 1969. She also served as a consultant for NASA’s Viking project to Mars in 1967 and she was a member of NASA’s Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) team in her role as a visiting scientist in the Laboratory of Extraterrestrial Physics at the Goddard Space Flight Center.
Sister Mary Ellen received numerous awards and honors: National Science Foundation development grant in geological resources in Denver; recognition from the Institut de Chimie of Louis Pasteur University in Strasbourg, France, and the Connecticut Academy of Science; American Cyanamid Teaching Award and Outstanding Teacher Award from St. Joseph College; a NASA post-doctoral appointment in geochemistry at the University of Glasgow; National Research Council Fellowship; nine additional research grants; and honorary doctorates from the University of Hartford and St. Joseph College.
She was a trustee of St. Joseph College for 12 years, assuming leadership roles, and was named trustee emerita. She also served in her Mercy community’s leadership as a general councilor and had numerous committee appointments, as well. She was instrumental in working on governance structures for the Sisters of Mercy. She co-authored two patents and published numerous articles on lunar rocks.
Sister Mary Ellen is survived by her siblings, Vincent C. Murphy of Sherman; Sheila Rose Gilbert of North Falmouth, Mass.; and Stephen D. Murphy of West Hartford. She is survived by many nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews. She was predeceased by her brother, Father Arthur Murphy; and her sister Anne Marie Melly.
A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated July 31 at Connor Chapel of Our Lady at the University of St. Joseph. Burial followed in St. Mary Cemetery in West Hartford.
Donations in Sister Mary Ellen’s memory may be sent to the Sisters of Mercy, 55 E. Cedar St., Newington, CT 06111; or University of St. Joseph, West Hartford, CT 06117.