19/07/2012 09:07

Australian priest previously in PNG saving lives on ambulance and pulpit

By: Brenda Paul. Saving lives has been a common theme throughout the life of Fr Gerard Mulholland.

"Saving body and soul," he said of his time as an ambulance officer in Maryborough in the 1980s and 90s and now as parish priest at St Mark's, Inala.

His motto 'Show the world of God's love' is his driving force.

"I think we all have to show the world God's love - by the way we conduct ourselves rather than by what we get up and preach about. As St Francis of Assisi said, 'Go and spread the gospel everywhere, if you have to, use words'."

Throughout his life Fr Gerard worked as a volunteer with St Vincent de Paul and was local president of the Society.

After 15 years as an ambulance driver and workplace health and safety officer, he was ordained in 2006 and immediately sent to Papua New Guinea as a missionary.

"I suppose it takes a fair bit to shock me after driving ambulances for 15 years, you've seen most things," he said.

"But I think also life experience is a big thing for anybody."

Born in Maryborough, Fr Gerard completed high school at the local Christian Brothers' College.

"When I was a small child, mum and dad worked in the post office and were transferred to Ipswich, then to Brisbane and so I started my schooling at St Munchin's, Carina, run by the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, the aeroplane sisters with the big coronets," he said.

"After about four years dad transferred back to Maryborough and I had the rest of my education at the Christian Brothers."

His mother's uncle, Brother Athanasius Reick, 'Uncle Charles', was a mentor to young Gerard.

We used to visit him - his "simplicity and holiness" struck a chord.

Other inspirations followed in the formation of Fr Gerard - Fr Denis Power, parish priest of St Munchin's, Fr Guilford Lyons, the second parish priest in Inala, and Fr Harry Bliss, his parish priest in Maryborough.

It has been an initiation of fire for the former ambulance driver - from Papua New Guinea to Melbourne to Hamilton, then Inala.

A late vocation into the priesthood has been a blessing in many respects.

He was out on the bay with his great fishing buddy, Fr Harry Bliss, and a conversation between the two men steered Gerard Mulholland towards the priesthood.

"But I always had this thing that I didn't think I was holy enough to be a priest; and then while I was up in New Guinea as overseas chairman of St Vincent de Paul, I met a lot of priests and missionaries and I came back and applied to join the Divine Word Missionaries and was accepted," he said.

The Papua New Guinea earthquake and tsunami of 1998 had a huge impact on Fr Gerard and his commitment to helping people.

More than 2200 people were killed in the tidal wave.

"And I just fell in love with the place and with the people," he said.

"So it was off to Sydney and Melbourne to study theology.

"It's full on 30 years after you've left school.

"So after seven years in the seminary, I was ordained a deacon in Melbourne by Bishop Hilton Deakin with six other fellows."

Then in November 2006 after ordination as an SVD missionary, Fr Gerard went to Mt Hagen in Papua New Guinea, to a little place called Fatima.

"This was the best time of my life," he said.

Working with the children there was a great joy."

Life in Fatima changed course when he suffered a terrible injury and was sent back to Australia.

He now has a metal rod in his chest.

"It was heartbreaking to leave there - that was the worst part, more so than the damage, because I had set my heart on staying there. But there's definitely a reason," he said.

Fr Gerard came back, had the operation, and was then appointed Director of the Janssen Spirituality Centre in Melbourne, named after the founder St Arnold Janssen.

"I really got into ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue when I went to Janssen in Melbourne; it is a centre for ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue, spirituality and cross-cultural relations. And had a lot to do with Muslim, Jewish and Hindu religions there," he said.

Fr Gerard is now administrator of Hamilton parish and its Divine Word Missionaries house, as well as parish priest at Inala, a multi-cultural parish with a large Vietnamese congregation and strong presence in the community.

Fr Gerard sees 2200 parishioners across the average weekend, 50% of those are from the Vietnamese community.

"We're very fortunate here that we've got wonderful musicians, liturgy committees and care and concern groups who go and visit people. I think it all lends itself to making the place a user-friendly sort of parish," he said.

"Another big feather in our cap in Inala is our school.

"We've got nearly 500 kids at St Mark's, from 21 nationalities.

"And we priests in the parish have a great relationship with the principal and the teachers. "We have a weekly liturgy in the school every Thursday morning.

"One of us priests goes to the school whether it's the liturgy of the word or whether we go over to the school for Mass, but every week there's a lot of interaction. I can just drop in."

There is great satisfaction for Fr Gerard as he walks past the school yard to the church each day; children wave and a "bless you Father" from the young students brings much joy.

New Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge has already made a visit to the school.

It was his second school visit since his arrival in Brisbane and he also visited the Ngutana-Lui Cultural Centre, part of Catholic Education and unique in Australia.

Last year 23,000 children visited the centre from throughout the archdiocese, both Catholic and non-Catholic schools.

"He visited to bless the ground and had an enormous welcome by 500 kids in the school hall. He was very impressed by the whole place. He's an amazing fellow. He's certainly 'full on'," he said.

Fr Gerard said the greatest challenges come from the simple things.

"To make people feel welcome. Or, as Archbishop Coleridge has said, 'To roll out the wagons, to reach out to people' - especially those who, for a number of different reasons, might have given the church away or gone cold on it, and to try and make the church attractive to people," he said.

Fr Gerard sees a period of revival in the Church.
"The impetus created by the arrival of a new Archbishop will only keep this momentum going.

"The Church is strong and engaging more young people, though a continual challenge." (The Catholic Leader)