May 12, 2023

Faith fills woman honored for ‘heart for serving’ needy and mothers of miscarriage

Jessica and Kevin Murphy smile with their son Daniel in December 2022. She was recently named one of Terre Haute’s “12 Under 40” professionals who have made significant contributions to the community. (Submitted photo)

Jessica and Kevin Murphy smile with their son Daniel in December 2022. She was recently named one of Terre Haute’s “12 Under 40” professionals who have made significant contributions to the community. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

Jessica Murphy admits to feeling “a bit uncomfortable” about recently being named one of Terre Haute’s “12 Under 40” professionals who have made significant contributions to the community.

“Honestly, I thought, ‘Well, I’m just doing my job,’ ” says the development director for Catholic Charities Terre Haute.

But scratch beneath the surface of her humble response, and a story much deeper is revealed.

It’s the story of a geologist who, just shy of receiving a doctorate, discerned a call to serve others and took a leap of faith—and a complete change of careers—to discover her passion in life.

It’s a story of crushing heartache and wavering faith through the loss of four children to miscarriage.

And it’s a story of restored faith and a passion to hear and walk with women who’ve experienced the same common but often unspoken pain of such loss.

The story begins in northern Michigan with a girl who “grew up loving the outdoors.”

‘Definitely a leap-of-faith moment’

When Murphy learned in high school that “you can get a job to be paid to work outside,” she was all in.

Her enthusiasm and studies took her to Terre Haute, where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geology at Indiana State University (ISU).

Murphy switched to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis to earn her doctorate in applied Earth sciences. It was while preparing her dissertation in 2015 that she unearthed a new calling.

“My dissertation looked at lead in soil in Indianapolis and how it affects children’s health and can impact their lives through adulthood,” Murphy explains. “I was working with these different groups and populations who felt they had no voice, and no one was listening to them.

“I’d never experienced that and immediately felt, ‘You are in a position where people listen to you, and you need to be a voice for these people. … I think that’s where I’m being called to be.’ ”

Doing an about-face so close to completing her doctorate was a difficult and even frightening idea.

“I remember having conversations with my husband [Kevin] that, ‘I really feel God is pulling me into this career of service,’ ” says Murphy who, with Kevin and their son Daniel, is a member of St. Joseph University Parish in Terre Haute.

She notes that she and Kevin, a career firefighter, “always joked that he was going to be a fireman and I’d be professor and he’d retire at 40. It was definitely a leap-of-faith moment. I did a lot of praying and finally thought, ‘OK, I hope I’m making the right choice.’

“God has definitely showed me that I did make the right choice.”

‘We get to be a beacon of light’

That choice led first to a project manager position for the Safe Urban Gardening Initiative in Indianapolis, then to a role as community outreach coordinator for Chances and Services for Youth in Terre Haute.

In 2018, Murphy was hired as development manager for Catholic Charities Terre Haute, where she primarily raises funds for the archdiocesan agency’s food bank.

During COVID, says Murphy, “We saw so many households and families who were one missed paycheck away from not making ends meet. When I know that we can provide them a service and do it in a way that is respectful and makes them feel comfortable, I think that’s so rewarding.”

It was in part for Murphy’s role in organizing emergency food distribution during the pandemic that her friend, Julie Manson, nominated her for the “12 Under 40” honor.

“She has such a huge heart for serving others in the community of Terre Haute and beyond,” says Manson. “She never wants accolades. She doesn’t want awards. She just wants to continue to try to help others.”

In her role with Catholic Charities, that help is extended through food, finances—and faith.

“There’s a lot of times we get a phone call, and even if we’re not able to help them, like paying rent, there’s time where we just pray with people on the phone,” says Murphy. “It’s a very humbling moment but also very special, to know that we get to be an example of Christ to these people. Some of them, on their worst days, we get to be a beacon of light for them.”

Providing help, offering hope, extending faith. These are components that make Murphy “passionate about what I do.”

“I’m very blessed to work somewhere where it doesn’t always feel like a job every day,” she says. “I get to work somewhere that is family-focused and faith-focused, and those are all things that help keep me grounded and appreciate my family situation.”

‘They’re still part of that body of Christ’

For Murphy, that “family situation” includes the gift of her and Kevin’s 3-and-a-half-year-old son Daniel.

“He’s energetic,” she admits with a chuckle that rings with love and joy.

But there is sadness, pain, even anger and a test of faith that figure into the Murphy’s journey as parents.

Married in 2013, Murphy recalls the couple’s three-year struggle with infertility before finally conceiving a child in 2016.

About 10 weeks into the pregnancy, Murphy experienced bleeding. An ultrasound at the hospital revealed the devastating reality—they had lost their child.

The mourning couple drove directly to St. Joseph University Church, where Sunday morning Mass had just ended. Their priest offered words of consolation that, to this day, says Murphy, “I think of every time I go to Communion.

“The gist was, we’re all one in the body of Christ. When we lose someone, they return to the hands of Christ. So, when we go to receive that sacrament of Communion, we’re taking in also a piece of that loved one with us. We’re joined with them physically in that moment.

“Not only am I physically receiving the body of Christ, but I’m getting to be with” the child she lost—and the three other children she miscarried after Daniel was born.

“Even though they were here for such a short time, they’re still part of that body of Christ,” Murphy continues. “I take a lot of comfort from that.”

‘He was there the whole time’

As comforting and impactful as the priest’s message was, Murphy’s soul was far from healed.

“God and I have had a rocky relationship through my infertility journey,” Murphy admits.

After her first miscarriage, she was “very angry” with God, questioning why he took her child. That anger persisted even after Daniel was born in September of 2019.

Later that fall, Murphy attended an ACTS (Adoration, Community, Theology, Service) retreat through her parish—a ministry she now helps to coordinate.

“I was in the chapel asking God to forgive me for the anger I was harboring toward him,” she recalls. “In that moment, I saw Christ. He reached out his hand to me and had with him a little girl 2, maybe 3 years of age.

“I realized I didn’t need to seek his forgiveness. He was there the whole time and was ready to walk with me, I just had to let my guard down.”

Murphy says a weight “I don’t think I realized I was carrying” was “immediately lifted off of me. It was a huge turning point for me.”

That experience of unexpected grace carried Murphy through the loss of three more children through miscarriage after 2019.

“Now I know God is there for me to get me through these hard times,” she says. “He’s not taking these children from me—he’s there to greet them and walk with me through these losses.

“It’s not always easy, but it is definitely much more comforting.”

In line with a character Manson describes as “so giving” and “making people feel welcome and wanted where they are,” Murphy now comforts other women who have lost children to miscarriage.

After her first miscarriage, she found that “whenever I mentioned we had a miscarriage, so many said, ‘Oh we did too.’ I found it was this thing that was very common but that no one talked about. There were all these women fighting this battle on their own.”

She began to feel a call to share about her miscarriage on her Facebook page.

“I didn’t want it to be a ‘pity me’ post,” she says. “I wanted to be there for women who either wanted to talk about [miscarriage or infertility] or didn’t want to talk about it but wanted to feel justified in whatever they were feeling, be it anger or sadness—it can make you feel very broken that as a woman you can’t do that one thing you’re supposed to do.”

Responses started pouring in from women who had lost children through miscarriage or struggled with infertility.

In sharing her story, Murphy “created a space where it is safe [for women] to have difficult conversations and express and accept their emotions, good or bad,” Manson wrote in her letter nominating her friend for the “12 Under 40” honor.

Murphy has since walked with more than 30 women, saying she has “a personal relationship with a lot of them. They know they can call or text me anytime.”

Recently, she started making baskets for women who suffered a miscarriage. They include “things they need and just some things for comfort,” like an ice pack, heating pad, Tylenol, snacks, a magazine.

She also includes something to memorialize the baby.

“I think sometimes, especially if it was an early miscarriage, sometimes the mother can minimalize the importance of that life,” Murphy notes. With something to honor the baby, the woman will “always be able to tell someone the baby was with you.”

‘A challenge to get out and serve’

Murphy, while grateful, still struggles with being honored for “giving to the public sector [and] the private sector,” as Manson wrote in her nomination letter, listing other ways that her friend helps at her parish and with other charitable organizations—while still teaching a course at ISU.

But Murphy chooses to see the honor as a way to plant a seed for service in the hearts of others.

“When they had the [12 Under 40] awards ceremony, they asked each of us to speak for a few minutes,” she says.

She used the time to inspire others, saying, “We’re all in this room with 12 people who work for great organizations. I hope someone sees this as a challenge to get out and serve.

“There’s lots you can do. And
  when it’s something you’re passionate about, it makes the service that much more rewarding.”

(Women seeking help in walking through the pain of miscarriage or infertility can reach Jessica Murphy at

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