Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Remembering Father Pat

Published December 14, 2006

Sometimes in confession it is hard to know when to stop telling one’s sins. One fault seems to lead to another in an endless line.

But I remember a day long ago when there was no doubt that it was time for me to stop: I felt the cold nose of a dog nudging impatiently at my knee.

I had gone to confession with Father Pat Mulhern, whose dog, Paddy, accompanied him everywhere. The dog had shown up mysteriously at the rectory one day, and Father Pat had taken him in, and the two became inseparable, even if Father at times lamented the dog’s foibles.

Father Pat often heard confessions in his office, and on this particular day, Paddy was with him. When the dog stood up and nudged me, I took that to be a sign.

“Well, I think that’s it,” I chuckled, and Father Pat laughed and said one of his characteristic statements: “Ain’t that the truth?”

I just heard the news that Father Pat, a former pastor of St. Thomas More Church in Decatur, passed away.

My friend who called me summed it up so nicely when she said, “He was Jesus as the common man.”

She was right. He accepted people with all their flaws and foibles, and loved them.

When I first met Father Pat, I was a fallen-away Catholic who had gone to St. Thomas More to speak with a priest. All I knew was that I had the sense that “someone” was calling me back to the Church.

I struck out on my first try, however, when another priest, a much older man, scared me away with questions I was not prepared to answer. I left in a huff, figuring my interest in returning to the fold was a big mistake.

But then a friend suggested that I call Father Pat, who warmly invited my husband and me to stop by and see him. When we walked into the rectory, Father Pat came bustling out eagerly and hugged me.

That was the reaction I desperately needed. As the proverbial sheep that had strayed, I longed for a shepherd who would give me a glimpse of God’s love.

Before long, my husband Jef and I were attending Sunday Mass, and if we arrived early, we might see Father Pat vacuuming the church. That was just his way: Whatever needed doing, he did, without much fuss and bother.

During another confession with Father, I had a rather, long, niggling list of sins, and was being overly scrupulous about my faults. No doubt weary of melancholy souls like me, Father Pat gave me a big smile. “He came to bring us joy!” he said.

That was the whole point for Father Pat: getting others to tap into the joy of Christ. And since he dwelled on love and joy, he wasn’t one to stick by the rule books, a fact that annoyed some and delighted others.

Before STM parishioner Susan Esposito died, for example, she had time to jot down notes for her funeral, and requested that her beloved dog attend. That was no problem for Father Pat: I recall seeing the animal sitting politely near the front of the church during the funeral Mass.

The last time we saw Father Pat, he was one of the priests celebrating First Holy Communion Mass at STM in May 2006, and although he was not feeling well, he still greeted me with that characteristic giant hug and said a few kind words about my writing.

Jesus reminded us that the sheep literally know the shepherd’s voice and will respond to him rather than others, and I will always remember Father Pat’s voice, which had a nice touch of Irish laced through it.

And if I do make it to heaven some day, I can just see Father, his reading glasses perched on his head, poring over a good book and sitting by a sunny window. There would surely be a rambunctious dog nestled at his feet, and a big smile on Father’s face.

And I can envision Father rising from the chair to greet me and can imagine me saying something like: “Well, so this is heaven! It took me a long time to get here, but oh, how lovely it is!”

And I just know what he would say: “Ain’t that the truth!”


Artwork featured in the print version by Jef Murray. Lorraine Murray’s latest book is “How Shall We Celebrate?” — a collection of meditations on Advent, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day and other special days of the year. Readers may e-mail her at: