Posted March 02, 2016 in Memorials:
He Lived Life With Passion

by Fr Blair Bernard.

One day fifteen years ago, I walked into Fr. Pat McNulty’s poustinia and into his life, and in doing so, I walked into the strangest friendship I’ve ever had.

I walked into a mystery; I walked into the life of a man who taught me what he called "the mystery."

I was a priest probably less than a year, when I came to Madonna House to make a directed retreat. Fr. Pat was assigned to give it to me, and I walked into his poustinia dressed in my clerics, in a double breasted suit coat.

Fr. Pat was wearing a Hawaiian shirt! His beard was garnished with vestiges of a previous meal, and the bulging buttons in his Hawaiian vestiture revealed the magnitude of his girth. He was a giant!

The 1990s was meeting the 1960s. The Catechism of the Catholic Church was meeting the spirit of Vatican II. The law and order of Pope St. John Paul II was meeting the open windows policy of Pope St. John XXIII. One word came to me: "hippy!"

Like any newly ordained priest, I was in constant conversation with heavenly persons, and I have a distinct memory of walking out that poustinia and saying to Our Lady, "Why did you give me this one?"

Fifteen years later, I finally know why.

Who was Fr. Patrick Joseph McNulty? Ever since Hippocrates, we have talked about the four temperaments. The sanguine, people who are optimistic and highly social; the phlegmatic, people who are relaxed and peaceful and contented; the choleric, those who are short-tempered and irritable; and the melancholic, those who are analytical, moody and subject to depression.

Fr. Pat was the only human being I’ve ever met who was capable of being all four at the same time!

Fr. Pat was born in 1931 in Huntington, Indiana, the eighth of ten children.

A seminal event took place in his life when he was five or six years old. Here’s how he described it:

I was standing in our backyard after supper, and I was listening to the bells of a nearby Capuchin monastery. I crossed myself and then began to weep uncontrollably. All I could do was stand there in that strange joyful and sorrowful state.

Little did I know that this moment was a watershed moment in my life, and everything else was wrapped up in the mystery of it.

Perhaps that was the beginning of Fr. Pat’s entry into what he would call, especially towards the end of his life, "the mystery."

Later he said, I have come to understand that those bells—how deeply hearing them—touched that existential desire in each of us to finally go home.


Fr. Pat seriously considered entering that monastery and becoming a monk, but he became a diocesan priest instead.

In 1960, he was ordained for the diocese of Fort Wayne and South Bend, Indiana. There he worked as a parish priest and also as a very beloved high school teacher.

But it wasn’t long before he entered into a hurricane that would affect him for the rest of his life. That hurricane was the 1960s.

What did the 1960s mean to him? Here’s how he describes it:

I think the bulk of the reality that struck me in the 1960s was that, after having tried so hard to grapple with the plight of the poor, the disenfranchised, and all those other folk in the world who were made so by all kinds of violence, it all came tumbling down before my eyes.

Assassinations, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert F. Kennedy, and others; hidden political agendas; Watergate in the 1970s; the inroads of the drug culture. I could not understand what was happening around me.

The 1960s left a deep mark on Fr. Pat’s life, and he returned to them again and again in his Restoration columns.

Then in the final months of his life, he asked himself, "What happened to all of us in the ‘60s?" In an effort to find the answer, he gathered a variety of books from and about that era, reading them when he couldn’t sleep at night. (See the January 2016 issue of Restoration.)

If you don’t know what the 1960s meant to people, let me just say that it was a time of enormous turmoil and upheaval. Some have even said that the human race had never before gone through as much change in such as short time.

One result that affected Fr. Pat deeply was that some of his friends left the priesthood. (It was, in fact, a time when priests throughout the United States were leaving in unprecedented numbers.)

For Fr. Pat, this was devastating.

I had believed that if I took my religion and my national responsibilities seriously, all would be well on earth. When it all began to unravel, I was overwhelmed to such a point that I eventually needed help. I needed a very special person to guide me through the spiritual darkness.

In 1964, he met that special person, Catherine Doherty. He entered into a time of intense letter-writing communication with her. Nonetheless, by 1968, he found himself profoundly shaken in his priesthood. So he came to Madonna House where he lived for a time in a cabin in the woods as a poustinik**.

From 1976-‘78, he worked in Jerusalem with Fr. Francis Martin, then a Madonna House priest, and the Charismatic Renewal, and he even spent some time in solitude in the Sinai Desert.

After this, he returned to his diocese and from 1978 – 1991, he began and administered and lived in what he called the "St. John Neumann Poustinia."

As he put it:

I had always wanted to do this so there would be a church open somewhere in the city, day and night, with a priest always available.

In 1991, he returned to Madonna House, and in 1993 he decided to become a member of the community. Here, his spiritual director, Fr. Brière, put him under obedience to go into poustinia specifically in order to say Mass by himself.

Fr. Pat describes that: For me it was so foreign, to say Mass alone. I mean, what do you do after you say "The Lord be with you," and nobody answers?


But there’s a spiritual power in obedience. As he entered the poustinia to steep himself in the Sacred Liturgy, he began to realize that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not something we create.

It’s something we receive, something that’s given to us, and we enter into the mystery that is God by entering into the mystery of the Sacred Liturgy. Through his obedience, things started to happen.

A number of years later, Fr. Pat was made the head of the MH associate priests, bishops, and deacons. In spite of all his ups and downs, his moodiness and so on, he had a real gift of wisdom, of priestly wisdom. And there was underneath that, an enormous capacity to see deeply into people.

As head of the associates, he was responsible for perhaps 140 priests and some bishops. He was like a bishop to them.

When I was still an associate priest, I would get phone calls from him, numerous times, just asking "How’re you doing?" And he would also send us letters. He took us associates on as if we were his own sons; he poured out his life for us.

He was also a spiritual director to a lot of people, both in the Madonna House Community and outside it.

It was in the poustinia that he got steeped in the mystery of the Mass and the God who comes to us in it. He spent three days a week in poustinia and the other four days with the community.

It was there, too, that he learned the significance of what I would call the two pillars of MH spirituality: Nazareth, finding God in the ordinary; and the desert, the poustinia.

He would often tell the story about when he was first at Madonna House. He was working at the farm and one suppertime, after he’d been shovelling manure all day, he was eating at our foundress’ table. He told her that he couldn’t see what shovelling manure had to do with God.

Catherine said "Father, if you can’t find God in the manure pile, you’ll never find him anywhere at all!"

I once asked Fr. Pat how he helped people in spiritual direction. About those who were members of the community, he said, "I get them to realize the best thing they can do to grow in holiness and union with God is to simply live the life of Madonna House."

Who was Fr. Pat McNulty? He was an enormous man, both physically and spiritually—a court jester, a wise man, a spiritual father; an Irish charmer. At times he was uproariously funny. He had a flare for the dramatic, a flare which occasionally devolved into the maudlin or excessively sentimental.

There was one time in particular when I found he was not being maudlin, not being excessively sentimental and I’d like to share it with you.

It happened after spending a long time in the hospital after his heart attack. He really felt—he was a real extrovert—the pain of being separated from the community.

I drove him home and it was arranged that when I pulled around the corner just before arriving at MH, I would slow down so he could see the crowd of people lining the road with a huge welcome-home banner.

When Fr. Pat saw that banner and all those people, he wept like a child.

Fr. Pat was mercurial, occasionally volatile, always unpredictable, but (in my opinion anyhow) always loveable and a spiritual father to so many.

He could reach people that I could never hope to touch. He had the capacity to be with and enjoy the presence of anyone without being threatening, and he was always ready to talk to them about the Lord when they were ready.

And, most importantly for me, and why my heart changed about him, and why my meeting with him fifteen years ago was the beginning of the education of Fr. Blair, was that I recognized in him something I think truly holy people have, what the desert fathers called warm heartedness or tender heartedness. It’s a feeling for others that God has for them. Fr. Pat had that in spades.

When Fr. Pat entered that poustinia, he had the opportunity to look deeply into his life and to enter more deeply into the mystery of God.

One fruit of that was his column in Restoration, and another was his autobiographical book, I Live Now, Not I.

God writes straight with crooked lines; he certainly wrote straight with the very crooked lines of Fr. Pat’s life. And God’s action in him made his heart childlike, warm, and tender.

Fifteen years ago, I walked into Fr. Pat’s poustinia and into his life. I entered into a mystery, and I entered into a man grappling with the mystery.

How much I have learned about God from this man I first thought I had nothing at all to learn from!

Now Fr. Pat has gone through the veil, and this time, he hasn’t been pulled back. Now he has heard his bells, the ones he heard when he was five years old. Now, he has been summoned home. Now, he knows what the mystery is.

— Adapted from the eulogy at Fr. Pat’s wake service


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