Priest’s faith defines life’s outlook, provides hope facing cancer - Catholic Courier

Priest’s faith defines life’s outlook, provides hope facing cancer

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first installment of the Catholic Courier’s new “Profiles in Faith” standing feature, which was inspired by reader feedback received through our recent survey. “Profiles in Faith” will highlight Catholics throughout the Diocese of Rochester — of all ages and walks of life — who are role models for living the faith. To suggest a person to profile in future installments, please contact the Courier at Newsroom@CatholicCourier.com.

Father Thomas Mull sees God everywhere.

He sees God in the leaves outside changing from lush green to brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow. He recognizes God in the wonder and joy in the eyes of new parents preparing for their first child’s baptism. And, yes, he even finds God in news that his cancer has returned after four years’ of remission.

“It’s the good and the bad. There’s always the mystery of God coming through from morning ‘til night for me,” remarked Father Mull, pastor at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Geneva.

Father Mull’s ability to find God in everything is partially a product of his training as a Catholic priest; partially due to a conscious effort on his part to seek God in all things and keep growing; and partially due to the strong Catholic faith that was woven into the fabric of his life ever since he was a young boy.

Father Mull grew up in Waterloo, where his family was active in St. Mary Parish. His mother, a nurse for 41 years, frequently attended daily Mass after finishing her overnight shifts as a nurse manager at Waterloo’s hospital, and his father was an usher at St. Mary’s Sunday-evening Mass.

He and his brothers were altar servers and frequently called upon to serve because they lived just two blocks from St. Mary, Father Mull recalled. He and his eight siblings attended St. Mary School until eighth grade and then moved on to DeSales High School in Geneva.

“Our family activities and things used to revolve around faith, with the activities that went on in the parish. (Our faith) wasn’t something separate or different. It was sort of a natural part of our life,” Father Mull said.

After graduating from DeSales, he studied at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford before completing his seminary studies at St. Bernard’s Seminary in Rochester. He also completed graduate work at Notre Dame University.

“I had the Catholic education all the way through and then some,” he said with a chuckle.

Father Mull said he’d always been drawn to the priesthood, especially during his years as an altar server, but it wasn’t until he began his undergraduate studies at St. John Fisher that he started to seriously consider the vocation. Yet he also was considering becoming a doctor, so he started out in Fisher’s pre-med program. After his parents — following a talk with their pastor — assured him of their support if he chose to pursue the priesthood, he enrolled in Becket Hall, the Diocese of Rochester’s pre-theology program, and never looked back.

He was ordained March 19, 1976, by Bishop Joseph L. Hogan and served as director of the Diocese of Rochester’s Office of Liturgy from 1982-94. He also served at Rochester’s St. Andrew, St. Ambrose and Sacred Heart Cathedral parishes as well as St. Benedict Parish in Canandaigua and Bloomfield before taking on his current pastorate in Geneva in 2013. Throughout his 45 years as a priest, Father Mull has especially enjoyed celebrating the sacraments.

“Sharing the sacraments is one of the greatest gifts the priesthood has. We’re obviously sharing and enriching the faith for people when we baptize or hear confessions,” he said.

Father Mull said he feels privileged to have walked with people as they’ve welcomed new life, mourned the loss of loved ones or celebrated such sacramental milestones as baptisms, weddings and first Communions. New parents have told him their faith was strengthened after their baby’s birth as they realized only God could create life so perfectly, and he’s watched individuals going through dark times cling to their faith because it was the only thing that made sense and got them through those trials, he said.

“I just see that experience, and it just deepens my relationship with God, but it also deepens my relationship with others I’m connected to,” Father Mull said.

Father Mull has formed close friendships with many of the people he’s met at parishes in which he’s served, and he said these friends have supported him as much as he’s supported them. The support of friends has been particularly helpful during his battles with lymphoma, which Father Mull has beaten three times already.

He learned in October that the cancer has returned for a fourth time. While this news was certainly unwelcome, Father Mull is taking it in stride and leaning on his faith and the support of those around him.

“People have been so good and supportive of me in the past. It can’t help but be anything but God, reaching through them, reminding me that he hasn’t deserted me,” the priest remarked. “I have a personal goal in the next few months to stay positive and to keep looking forward, and I think I will be a better priest and probably a better person because of that.”

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