Mulligan, Father Thomas

1960, June 7

Date of Birth: 1892, September 9

December 25, 1960

My dear Confreres:

Father Mulligan, whom God called to Himself on June 7, 1960, was born in Eagle Grove, Iowa, on September 9, 1892, of a very religious family whose high principles combined with the grace of God led him towards the priesthood.

A well-gifted student, he began his studies in the parochial school of his native town, continued them at St. Joseph’s College, and finally entered the Montreal seminary.

He received tonsure in 1914, subdiaconate on December 18, 1915, and diaconate on June 17, 1916. Ordained a priest on July 25th of the same year, he was sent for two years to Rome where he took his degree in Theology at the Angelicum.

Wishing to train other priests, he obtained from his Ordinary, Archbishop James Keane, permission to enter the Society of St. Sulpice. He made his Solitude at Issy in 1919-1920 under the distinguished and dynamic direction of Father Tanquerey, very busy at the time with the revision of his Précis of Ascetical and Mystical Theology and with the updating of his manuals.

Under such a Master, Father Mulligan could receive no other than a substantial formation. Actually, he showed himself a docile and perfect disciple.

The priesthood, as soon became apparent, was the great preoccupation and the great love of his life. His heart, however, was not closed against human affection. Hence, he remained very much attached to his good mother, who was born Joanna O’Connor, a name which reveals her Irish origin, and leads one to guess her active faith.

Active – Father Mulligan was intensely so, to such a point that he was considered a sort of pioneer when Basselin College was opening. He gave it strong support and headed it for seven years with distinct authority.

Pioneer – Again he was so when he wrenched himself from the college which he loved so much to respond to the call of his superiors sending him to open a seminary – St. Edward’s – in Seattle (Kenmore, Washington). He augmented the steps being taken for the gathering of the funds necessary for the project. No detail escaped him. He looked into everything, and, it might be said, that every stone of the building, every section of the grounds, as well as every student of the house, bore his mark. That is why his name is kept alive in all the region. He was given the familiar name, “Father Tom”, so much was he considered the friend and benefactor of everyone.

Worn out by such labor he asked, at the end of thirteen years, to return to the ranks. He was briefly at the Baltimore seminary, where he taught Philosophy, only to be sent in 1944 as Rector of St. Patrick’s Seminary in San Francisco, where he involved himself in a renewal of fruitful activity.

Himself very austere, Father Mulligan knew how to show kindness to others. If his many labors kept him from having close and frequent relationships with the students, those who knew him best prized his natural goodness and were deeply impressed with the very noble idea he had of the priesthood. He sought to pour this perfection-of-the-priesthood ideal into his students. Sacerdos Alter Christus [The priest is another Christ] was his motto. He would have liked all priests to resemble as strictly as possible their Divine Model. He himself gave the example, for he was a man of prayer, of humility, of obedience and of sacrifice. Rigorous as regards principles, he showed himself understanding in their practical applications; for he was not unaware of the weakness of human nature. That is why one was willing to pardon the signs of impatience which sometimes, in a soul wrapped up in the ideal, were shown over the shortcomings of his subordinates. He was one of those who do not make light of the observance of the articles of the Rule. For the rest, he himself had no illusions about his own tendencies. It is reported that while on a trip to Europe he went on a pilgrimage to Assisi to ask the Poor Man for the virtue of patience. Instead of perfect patience, he received perfect joy, and he strove to share it with those who came to him. He had also a sense of humor which often allowed him to put an end with good spirit to those drawn-out and embarrassing situations which are familiar to all who bear serious responsibility.

It was at Louisville where in his last years he taught Latin at St. Thomas Seminary that Father Mulligan (who was experiencing the onset of age and weakness) was taken off last June 7th by a heart attack. Many priests and seminarians who had a deep gratitude to him for all the good he had done them, attended the funeral in the Cathedral of the Assumption in San Francisco. The burial took place in the Sulpician cemetery at St. Charles College in Baltimore. May the Eternal Priest, for Whom the worthy superior’s heart never ceased to beat during a life filled with many labors, welcome with love into heavenly joy one who was – without fail – his faithful servant.

We beg you to accept, dear confreres, the assurance of our affection and our regard in Our Lord and Our Lady.

Pierre Girard

Superior General of the Society of St. Sulpice