Died 29 October 2019
Jesuit Father William L. Mulligan died on Oct. 29, 2019. He was born in Boston, the second youngest of the four sons and four daughters of Anthony and Anna Mulligan. Both his parents had come from Ireland and met and married here. His father was a court officer and his mother took care of the large family. They lived in Saint Mark’s Parish in Dorchester, Massachusetts, then a largely Irish and Catholic section of Boston. Fr. Mulligan attended parish grammar school, then Mission High School in Roxbury for two years, and transferred to Cathedral High School in the South End for his last two years of high school. When he graduated, in 1951, he entered Boston College, where his oldest brother was teaching German.
At B. C. he felt attracted to the idea of entering the Jesuits but didn’t feel smart enough or worthy of such a calling. A Jesuit he consulted told him that he certainly had the ability and that if his desire was from God then God’s grace would resolve these doubts. So, after his sophomore year at B. C., he entered the novitiate of the New England Province, Shadowbrook, in the Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts. There he did the usual two years of novitiate, pronouncing first vows on Aug. 15, 1955. He was in the first year of the juniorate when the building was destroyed by fire, on March 11, 1956. Three priests and one brother died in the fire but Fr. Mulligan, like most of the scholastics, lived at the other end of the building and walked out unhurt.
He finished the juniorate at St. Andrew’s, in Poughkeepsie, New York. With his novitiate classmates he moved to Weston for three years of philosophy studies. For regency he was assigned to Boston College High School, where he taught Latin and religion to second-year students. In 1962, he returned to Weston for four years of theology studies. He was ordained a priest at Weston, June 12th, 1965. Instead of going to tertianship immediately after theology studies, as was the usual practice then, he taught Latin for a year at B. C. High, and then went to Pomfret, Connecticut, for tertianship (1967-1968).
In 1968, now having finished his years of Jesuit formation, he was assigned to B. C. High, where he spent the next 14 years, teaching religion and directing the athletic program. He was a dedicated runner, did several marathons, and once at dusk his zeal led him to a collision with an automobile on a busy, dimly lit road that ran from the high school past the famous L Street Beach. The force of the blow was enough to knock him across the sidewalk and onto the beach but, surprisingly, he broke no bones and was left with only a purple bruise running from shoulder to shin. His principal work was student counseling; he was known as an astute advisor who spent long hours with students who needed help, whether with college planning, or academic, familial, and personal problems. Summers while at B. C. High he earned a master’s degree in counseling at Loyola University Chicago.
In 1982, he moved to Bishop Connolly High School in Fall River, Massachusetts, which was staffed by both Jesuits and Brothers of Christian Instruction. There he continued as a student counselor, now focusing primarily on academic advising, and directed athletics. Fall River had been hard hit when mills that had provided good jobs for decades moved south and many of the students’ families lacked the resources to make college a realistic possibility. Fr. Mulligan worked hard to encourage his students and to find the help they needed. Once he drove a student all the way to Georgetown University because he thought would get more financial aid if he had an in-person interview.
In 1989, after 21 years of counseling students, he took a year’s sabbatical to refresh his spiritual roots at a program for priests offered by Maryknoll and one in Ignatian spirituality at St Beuno’s in Wales, U. K. Returning home, he was assigned to the Jesuit Urban Center in Boston’s South End, a pastoral ministry to Catholics and others who felt marginalized from traditional church structures. There he also worked as a counselor at Nativity Prep middle school in nearby Roxbury.
From 1994 onward, Fr. Mulligan’s life as a Jesuit falls broadly into two areas, parish ministry and chaplaincy work in hospitals and nursing homes and, briefly, prisons. He served in the Jesuit parish in Norwich, Connecticut (1992-1994); in Nassau and Kingston, Jamaica (1994-1995); at St. Gabriel’s in Brighton (1995-1999); and at Sts. Joseph and Mary in Salem, New Hampshire (2014-2018). He served as chaplain at Youville Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1995-1999 and 2001-2005); Mercy Hospital in Portland, Maine (2005-2007); Boston Medical Center (2007-2008); Jeanne Jugan Residence in Somerville, Massachusetts; and Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge. (2008-2014). He was prison chaplain for three years at the Suffolk County House of Correction in Boston (2002-2005). He held several of these positions simultaneously and in three of the summers while he was at Youville he tutored seminarians in Vietnam.
While he was at Youville Hospital he spent a year and a half studying Spanish at the Maryknoll language school in Bolivia and during a year of pastoral ministry in Quito, Ecuador (2000-2001).
Finally, in 2014, he was assigned to parish of saints Joseph and Mary in Salem, New Hampshire, which Jesuits staffed. Here he remained for the rest of his years of Jesuit ministry. He loved working as a priest in such a diverse community—seniors stretching their retirement incomes, young families of local tradesmen and craftsmen, and commuters to Boston. He prepared his homilies carefully and found great satisfaction in celebrating parish Masses. He was greatly appreciated, indeed loved by parishioners.
In 2018, he was assigned to Campion Center. He was determined to demonstrate that he was still the vigorous, middle-aged, high-school counselor who had run marathons. His name filled any blank space on the list of celebrants and readers for community Masses. He would walk with a cane or no assistance at all, when he was supposed to be using a walker or a wheelchair. He planted a large garden behind the building, his tomatoes were a treat, when they matured all at once in August. Though anyone who knew him was aware of his sweet and generous temperament, he grouchily and loudly resisted medical attention. Community members revived an old nickname, “Biffer,” whose origin no one seems to remember, because it seemed to fit his determination to defeat any obstacle that stood in his way.