SAN DIEGO — Father Pat Mulcahy has served as pastor of Mary Star of the Sea Parish in La Jolla for the past four years.
Born in San Antonio, Texas, into a military family, he was ordained to the priesthood on June 30, 1995, for the Diocese of San Diego.
Father Mulcahy, 56, previously pastored the parishes of St. Joseph Cathedral (2015-2019); Corpus Christi, Bonita (2005-2015); and St. Mary Star of the Sea, Oceanside (2001-2005).
Question: What role did the Catholic faith play in your life growing up?
Answer: I grew up in a very faithful Catholic family. Sunday Mass was absolutely part of our regimen, but even more so, we were the family that would go to daily Mass during Advent and Lent. Liturgy was central in our lives. This led to me becoming very active as an altar server in the parishes where I grew up.
When did you recognize that you were called to the priesthood?
I was always kind of attracted to the idea of being a priest. I grew up in parish environments where the priests were really great examples. It may sound funny, but the priests that I encountered regularly through altar-serving and other activities seemed like they were laughing all the time. They seemed to have a real joy in their lives. So, I always thought that the vocation of priesthood would be really great. For me, the question was: Do I have the call?
As I teenager and during college, I really felt that I should explore this calling. And I was affirmed in that by the people around me. When you go to daily Mass as a teenager, other daily Mass-goers tend to notice and are proactive in suggesting that you might be a candidate for priesthood.
What was it that you found attractive about the priesthood?
When you’re active and engaged in the liturgy, such as when you’re an altar server, you get a real sense of the meaning of what you’re doing. It’s not just about fulfilling an obligation. I really developed a sense of the awe of the Eucharist. I think, fundamentally, where it starts is with a real, deep love for the Real Presence of Jesus.
What has been most rewarding about priestly life?
I feel very privileged to be invited into people’s lives at very special, sacred moments. As a priest, you have access to people when they’re most joyful, such as at the baptism of a child or on a wedding day, and when they or a loved one is ill or dying. I feel in awe that God would use me as an instrument to have them meet Jesus through me.
After 28-plus years as a priest, I’m also still in awe of celebrating the Eucharist and being the instrument through which the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ comes into our presence. I don’t think I’ll ever stop being in awe of that or feeling humbled by that. It’s just the most awesome feeling for me.
National Catholic Schools Week will be observed from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3. Why are Catholic schools so important?
There is a moment in Sacred Scripture when the disciples go to Jesus and say, “Lord, teach us to pray.” I think that is a beautiful reflection of what a Catholic school is all about.
The academics and the formation are all very important, but at the center is helping young people to develop a relationship with God; to not only develop their gifts, but to connect them with God in a way that they see that they’re not an accident or a mistake, that their life has a purpose, and that they have a value that maybe they don’t hear about from the secular world. I think a Catholic school environment makes all the difference in the world.
There are exponential rewards for investing in a Catholic school. If you can form and shape a young person to center their lives on the Eucharist, to develop their gifts and talents, think about the impact they’re going to have in the world. Multiply that by 200 students in school and you forever change the world in a dramatic way.
How meaningful is it to pastor a parish with a school, like Mary Star of the Sea?
Prior to coming to Mary Star of the Sea, I specifically requested to be assigned to a parish with a school. For all of us, one of the most important aspects of whatever vocation or job we have is that we want to feel like we make a difference. The impact we can make on young people going forward for years to come is just awesome.
There was a young woman who attended kindergarten at the parish where I first started as a priest. She remembered how I would try to teach at a level that kids would understand, especially in the context of the liturgy. She called me up many years later and asked me to celebrate her wedding because of how fondly she remembered her experience as a kindergartner.
What advice do you have when it comes to discerning one’s vocation?
One of the biggest obstacles for me when I was discerning priesthood was the question, “Do I have the skills to do this?” I think that’s a natural inclination when it comes to the secular world: “Well, I want to do this job, but do I have the ability to do it?”
But, with any calling or vocation or task that is God-given, God never asks you to do something without giving you the ability to do it. It might be scary, it might be risky, but God knows more than we do and knows each one of us more than we know ourselves. The man who feels a call to priesthood shouldn’t be worrying about his shortcomings; he should be thinking, “I’m really excited that, despite my brokenness, God would use me in this incredibly awesome way.”
At the heart of any vocation, whether it’s priesthood, marriage, motherhood or fatherhood, or the single life, there should be a real trust that God knows what He’s doing. If I cooperate with His grace, I can find that niche where I’ll not only discover joy and peace, but where I’ll be able to make a difference in the world and bring glory to God. If we focus on the very fact that “God is calling me,” the other things will work out.