Reverend Monsignor
Robert T. Mulligan, Ph.D.
1926 - 1996
Homily at his Mass of Transferral

By Reverend Thomas W. Groenewold

Bishop McGann, Bishop Wcela, Bishop Dunne, Bishop Connors, Reverend Fathers, Deacons, Religious, Members of the St. Agnes Staff, Family of Monsignor Mulligan, Relatives and friends all...

We meet tonight, in shock, sadness and loss as we mourn the death of our beloved rector. We have lost our leader, one who had taken us and our needs to his heart, one who was so dedicated to us. Shock is all the greater because he walked so tall and straight and seemed so healthy, ready for anything. Yet in a very few minutes, while he was ministering to a grieving family, life left him. He went to God, to share more fully in the glory of Jesus' resurrection.

May we express our condolences to his brother Harry, to Harry's wife, Eileen, Monsignor's nieces and nephews, to his relatives and to his personal friends.

No homily by or about Monsignor Mulligan would be complete without a few dates and a little history.

August 15th, 1958 dawned as a very typical August day - humid, hot and sticky - and it was only 5:45 AM when I met Father Robert Mulligan for the first time. He had been assigned to the 6:00 AM Holy Day Mass at Our Lady of Mercy in Forest Hills and I was his server. Young Father Mulligan was on vacation, spending the time with his parents who lived only a few blocks away. Almost forty years later I was to learn that he was always willing to help and to do the jobs and take the assignments that were not exactly “prime time.”

In 1971, my mother and I moved from Forest Hills to Melrose Street in Valley Stream, in the parish of Holy Name of Mary. It was there that at the 5:00 PM Saturday Mass, we had our first history lessons. It was there that I greeted the gentle, soft-spoken priest who was the weekend assistant, the principal from St. John the Baptist High School. In 1987 when I was ready to celebrate my First Mass at my new parish of St. Agnes, Monsignor Mulligan was the rector. In 1992 when my first assignment ended, he and Bishop McGann asked me to come to St. Agnes.

Very often we look up to people as icons in our life and when we get to know them better, the edges get tattered. That was not the case in my association with Monsignor Mulligan. My estimation of him has grown over these past four years. I admired his intelligence, his wit, his seriousness, his dedication, his compassion, his varied interests, some of which we shared: railroads and railroading and history. I was amazed at his variety of fountain pens, his interest in computers and his devotion to his dogs, Barnaby and Bijou. I was also amazed at his concern for our physical plant, he never allowed crumbling bricks and a thin checkbook distract him from communion calls, hospital visits, office counseling, or wedding intakes. Because of his devotion to the sick and the dying, bereaved families often asked him to celebrate the funeral of their loved one. He was doing just such a thing when he was taken from us.

Whatever Monsignor Mulligan did, he applied all of his considerable intelligence to it. Being the founding principal of St. John the Baptist High School was no easy task. Under his leadership the school thrived. He gathered a staff and faculty that was concerned for students, for their intellectual growth and their moral and religious formation. His concern for the excellence of the televised Mass on Channel 55 and TeLlcare was a constant concern. He was concerned for the people of St. Agnes: for the whole parish, for the welfare of all, for parish outreach, for the school, for religious education and adult formation, for the music program. On All Souls' Day last Saturday he led us in such a moving tribute to parishioners who had died this past year. On Stewardship Sunday, he preached at all the Masses and told us how much the past ten years here had meant to him, the happiest years of his priesthood and thanked us for the support we had given him. His yearly talk at first penance about the prodigal dog Max was so popular with the children they thought of it as their favorite Bible Story. He enjoyed the children so much and they loved the priest with the dogs. His was always the longest line at first penance.

Monsignor Mulligan was so generous with himself in so many ways that time-off grew less and less these past few years. His relaxation was walking the dogs, burning the midnight oil in reading or learning the latest computer software. He never missed a meeting with the priest support group. He may have been late but he was always there. He was also so concerned about each of us priests at St. Agnes. He made sure we had our time for ourselves. He allowed for our interests and our initiatives.

Monsignor Mulligan was a man of prayer. Each morning we priests gather for the Liturgy of the Hours in our community room. Bob never missed. Not only was it an opportunity to pray with his fellow priests, but it was also an opportunity to talk informally about what was happening in the parish, what our agendas were and what decisions had to made. When we found his breviary, it was next to his favorite chair. He had highlighted lines of the passages from the Office of Readings, something we never knew, but it was so typical of his thoroughness and his interest and his dedication.

The motto of St. John the Baptist High School is IN FIDE ET LENITATE. Translated, it means in faith and in gentleness. We know it was his personal motto. He was a good man, a good priest and an excellent Christian.

The passage from Lamentations echoes the suddenness of our loss. We have no peace. Life is upset for this parish, its priests and its bishop. Where is our shepherd, the one who guides us? Where is our still point, our anchor, our leader? Faith gives us an answer. The mercies of the Lord are not exhausted. We need to trust in God and his goodness. God will show us the way in the spirit of his Son. Our faith leads us to hope.

In Baptism, we die with Christ and we rise with him to new life. God fills us with his grace so that we may complete the journey he has laid out for us. At times our faith and our hope is tested. The promise of eternal life and eternal peace is our goal, as it was for Monsignor Mulligan. We believe he shares in that fully now.

The Final judgment scene from Matthew we just heard read was Monsignor's favorite for a funeral liturgy. He often told us of St. John of the Cross who said, “In the twilight of our life, we shall be judged by love.” We shall be judged by God who is love and we shall be judged by the love we showed in our lives.

For a priest who showed so much love and so much compassion in his life, our faith tells us that last Monday evening Jesus said, “Robert, come, you are blessed by my Father, enter the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink, sick and you visited me. Naked and you clothed me. Whatever you did for the least of mine, you did for me.”


Monsignor Mulligan was assigned to Holy Name of Mary Parish as an assistant priest on June 24, 1959 and remained until he was transferred on June 26, 1963. Monsignor Mulligan later returned to Holy Name of Mary on September 7, 1965 as Principal of St. John the Baptist High School and remained in residence until September 1, 1986. This span of 25 years was second in length to only that of the founding pastor, Monsignor Peter P. McGovern, who served the people of Holy Name of Mary for 50 years.

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