By Paul Dobbyn
STAFF and students at St Mark’s Primary School, Inala, are in the early stages of grieving their “gentle giant” Fr Gerard Mulholland who has been a major part of their community for the past four years.
Fr Mulholland is stricken with Motor Neurone Disease and in the care of his religious order, the Divine Word Missionaries, at their Marsfield, NSW community.
St Mark’s principal Garry Montgomery and assistant principal for religious education Nikki Lysaght said the Maryborough-born priest had a profound impact on the school and parish community.
Mr Montgomery said he was a “good bear” of a man, “most congenial”, given to “holding court and telling excellent jokes and stories, especially about his time as a missionary in PNG (Papua New Guinea)”.
Divine Word Missionaries Australian provincial Fr Henry Adler said Fr Mulholland’s condition was deteriorating rapidly and he was having difficulty communicating.
“Gerard’s special relationship with St Mark’s parish started in 2006 when he was ordained there,” Fr Adler said.
“Prior to his appointment as parish priest of St Mark’s, Gerard worked as a missionary priest in PNG in Fatima, in the Archdiocese of Mt Hagen where he served as assistant priest and chaplain to Holy Trinity Teachers’ College.
“As a real ‘people person’, Gerard took to his role as St Mark’s parish priest with great enthusiasm.
“He loved ministering to the parishioners there, as is evidenced by the fact that some of them have made the journey down to Sydney to visit him in hospital.
“Gerard’s brother and sister have also been frequent visitors to Marsfield community in the last couple of months.”
Mrs Lysaght said she learnt “a lot from Fr Gerard in relation to liturgy, sacraments and theology in general”.
“I also fondly remember Fr Gerard’s first liturgy with a Prep class,” she said.
“At the conclusion of the liturgy, as the students left our sacred space a couple of little Prep girls stopped in front of Fr Gerard to especially thank him for joining them, and then surprised him with a cuddle.
“He was grinning ear-to-ear, thrilled that our smallest students would take the time to thank him and welcome him to the community.”
Mr Montgomery said there were concerning signs of Fr Mulholland’s health problems when he visited St Mark’s after Easter for the installation of Fr Stephen Pilly as parish priest.
“People were commenting how much weight he’d lost and also the difficulty he had speaking,” he said.
Mr Montgomery was sure the students of St Mark’s would have fond and long-lasting memories of Fr Mulholland.
“He was a gentle giant, usually wearing a light cream sun hat, always at multicultural days, special welcoming barbecues, choosing winners in dance contests, celebrating various school Masses and so on,” he said.
Mrs Lysaght said the St Mark’s community was preparing for the worst.
“It was difficult to watch Fr Gerard physically struggling in the last few months he was with us,” she said.
“And we were all deeply saddened when we learnt about his diagnosis.
“Throughout the last 12 months he has impressed me and many others with the positive attitude he has displayed.
“Students and parents never cease asking after him.
“He is very much loved by all of us.”