Local Religious life

Longtime vocations director celebrated for his service

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann congratulates Msgr. Michael Mullen on his 60 years as a priest. A Mass celebrating the occasion was held on June 12 at St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee. After many years of various vocation roles, Msgr. Mullen now holds the title of director emeritus of seminarians. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — During his senior year in 1954 at Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kansas, Michael Mullen was thinking about the seminary.

But he had questions.

So, he turned to Msgr. Thomas Culhane, archdiocesan vocations director.

“Monsignor, besides offering Mass and hearing confessions, what does a priest do?” asked the future priest.

“I’ll tell you what you do,” said Msgr. Culhane. “You work in the morning and take naps in the afternoon.”

Msgr. Michael Mullen celebrated 60 years as a priest during a Mass on June 12 at St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Msgr. Mullen laughs as he tells the story, since he only realized later that Msgr. Culhane was joking.

It’s true, though, that he’s been able to take occasional naps during his 60 years of ordained ministry.

But for the most part, Msgr. Mullen has had a very busy priesthood. Early to rise, late to bed, frequent calls for anointings and attending to crises at all hours has been the norm.

And a lot more besides — particularly vocations work.

Msgr. Thomas Tank gives a homily during the Mass celebrating Msgr. Michael Mullen’s 60th anniversary of priesthood. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

At the noon Mass on June 12 at St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee, Msgr. Mullen was honored for his 60th anniversary of priesthood. There was a reception in the parish hall after Mass.

Msgr. Mullen was supposed to be the main celebrant, but health issues forced him to concelebrate from a wheelchair. Pastor Father Scott Wallisch was the main celebrant and Msgr. Thomas Tank was the homilist.

Father Scott Wallisch consecrates the host during the June 12 Mass. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Msgr. Mullen was ordained on May 26, 1962, and immediately assigned to parish ministry. When Archbishop Edward J. Hunkeler, however, decided to build a minor seminary in western Kansas City, Kansas, he needed a faculty. He tapped Msgr. Mullen.

“We opened the doors of Savior as a high school seminary in September of 1965,” he said. “It’s true to say that I’ve been in vocations ministry for 57 of those 60 years [of priesthood]. I was a total of 22 years in the Savior program.”

“In 1987, for several reasons, the minor seminary program was moved to Maur Hill in Atchison,” he continued. “I was sent as moderator and mentor for three more years, and the program ended in 1990. That was a total of 25 years for the high school seminary program.”

Msgr. Michael Mullen receives a standing ovation from those gathered at the Mass celebrating his 60th anniversary of priesthood on June 12. After many years of various vocation roles, Msgr. Mullen now holds the title of director emeritus of seminarians. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

In addition to receiving pastoral assignments over the following decades, Msgr. Mullen has continued to serve as vocations co-director and director of seminarians. In more recent years, he served as co-director of seminarians with Father Wallisch, and recently received a new title: director emeritus of seminarians.

“That means I don’t have to travel to do the job,” said Msgr. Mullen with a chuckle.

Seminaries have changed a lot since his time at St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, now St. John Vianney Seminary.

“The last two years of college were the philosophy years, we used to call them,” said Msgr. Mullen. “Now, they call them discipleship years. They’re interested in men who are not only passing their philosophy exams, but also show that they are really disciples. They really believe in Jesus and pray about it and work with others.

“We used to have just theology classes. . . . A man would pass his tests and move right on to ordination. [Now] they want to know if a man is also being configured to Christ as he prays to the Father, to Jesus as he teaches and reaches out to the poor and serves the church by giving of himself sacrificially.”

Archbishop Naumann gives Msgr. Mullen a blessing following Mass. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JAY SOLDNER

Drawing from his six decades of priesthood, Msgr. Mullen offers this advice to his brother priests: Do the basics, the four pillars of vocation —spirituality, study, pastoral practice and human formation.

And his advice to men exploring a vocation to the priesthood? Only this: Trust in the Lord.

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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