For some months, the Daughters of Charity in the NY area had been in touch with me on the issue of preparing a memorial service for Fr. Richard McCullen, CM. Sr. Julie Cutter, DC, and Sr. Catherine Prendergast, DC, and I became the members of a planning group which divided up the responsibilities for making this event come to fruition. Meeting occasionally by telephone conference and more frequently by e-mails, we slowly gave form to the gathering. St. John’s University provided a venue at the beautiful St. Thomas More Church, the St. Louise Province generously offered financial support, and numerous Sisters shared their talents for organization.
On the appointed day, May 7, a group of twenty members of the Vincentian Family came together for the memorial. Our plan had been simple: a one hour prayer service within which we would tell stories of Fr. McCullen, and then a celebration of the Eucharist at which we would remember him, and then a simple dinner. Many of those who would like to have joined us but were unable sent stories of their dealings with this wonderful Vincentian priest and these tales were read at the service. The homily at the Eucharist focused upon the importance of prayer in the Christian life, and this was certainly in keeping with the character of our honoree. The simple meal with wonderful fellowship and more stories also kept the spirit of “Fr. Dick” close to our hearts.
Those who were present for the event all knew Fr. McCullen in one way or another, but I wondered how someone who did not know him might describe him after hearing all our accounts. Among the many elements which one might identify, let me highlight four.
First of all, Fr. McCullen was a wonderful priest and a Vincentian priest. His dedication to the clergy of Ireland was well-known and came up several times during the course of our celebration. Priests who had known him in the seminary would enjoy his warm and supportive companionship as they sought his wisdom on matters of contemporary concern. I myself saw that regularly dramatized during my trip to Ireland for the Eucharistic Congress. I had the pleasure of being with Fr. McCullen for one event and we were constantly in conversation with the Irish clergy.
Secondly, Fr. McCullen had a deep love for the Daughters of Charity. Many, many stories captured his desire to be with them and to provide a kind of presence which would make Vincent proud. Many of these stories contained a touch of humor in the midst of his dedication and so this other element of his personality was well illustrated.
An attentive hearer would not be able to avoid the conclusion that Fr. McCullen was a well-educated and well-read man. His talks and homilies frequently contained pieces of poetry and literature in the midst of his quotations from Vincent and Louise, the Scripture, and the documents of the Church. His ability to preach beautifully by drawing all these elements together gave wonderful witness to his heritage and intelligence.
Finally, devotion to the Blessed Mother was an important part of the spirituality of this Superior General of the Company and the Congregation. He sought the guidance and intercession of Mary in all his planning and placed those whom he loved under her maternal care.
One could say a lot more about this event and the stories to which Fr. McCullen gave rise. He was a blessing to our Vincentian Family and a model of living the charism faithfully. To remember him is to bring those values to the fore and to recommit ourselves to the following of Christ in the manner of our Holy Founders.