SAN DIEGO — Msgr. Dennis Mikulanis still remembers celebrating his first Masses.
He was only 4 years old at the time. His chalice was a regular household glass. Spools stood in for candles. His father lent him a missal and constructed a “tabernacle” for him.
“I started playing church, and it just continued from there,” recalled Msgr. Mikulanis, 72, who retired from active ministry in early July after 46 years as a priest.
“Ever since I was a little boy, all I’ve wanted to be was a priest,” said Msgr. Mikulanis, who noted that this wasn’t an uncommon aspiration among his peer group.
He said the Catholic culture of the 1950s was such that “every boy wanted to be a priest and every girl wanted to be a nun,” even if “very few of us made it.”
Born and raised in San Diego, Msgr. Mikulanis was baptized at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish and made his first confession and first Communion at St. Rita’s, before his family moved to what he considers his “home parish”: St. Therese Parish in Del Cerro.
A product of Catholic education, he attended St. Rita’s School, St. Therese Academy and the University of San Diego High School, before beginning priestly formation at St. Francis Seminary, located on the University of San Diego campus.
He was ordained to the priesthood on June 25, 1977. Following assignments as associate pastor of Blessed Sacrament, St. Mary Magdalene and St. Brigid parishes, he was appointed pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in early 1988. He served there until 1992, when he began a decade-long assignment as pastor of St. Charles Parish in Imperial Beach. Made a monsignor in 1998, he pastored San Rafael Parish in Rancho Bernardo from 2002 until his retirement.
“I would say my biggest joy as a priest really has been the people I’ve served,” said Msgr. Mikulanis. “They’ve given me life and inspired me as much as I hope that the Holy Spirit, working through me, has inspired some of them.”
In conjunction with his pastoral assignments, Msgr. Mikulanis has held various diocesan level posts, most notably in the area of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.
Officially involved in ecumenical work since the early 1980s, he held the title of Vicar for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs from December of 1990 until his retirement. But his interest in the subject actually goes back much further.
He said, “It’s always been a fascination for me and an understanding of, ‘Why can’t we all be one, as Jesus asked us to?’”
As vicar he worked to foster collaboration between Catholic and non-Catholic Christian communities and to improve relations with the Jewish and Muslim communities.
Since early 2009, Msgr. Mikulanis also has served as director of Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery and Mausoleum. In that capacity, he has personally stepped in whenever a grieving family at the cemetery didn’t already have a parish priest to preside over a deceased loved one’s funeral or graveside service.
“So many of these people are unchurched or have not been to church in a long time, and the way they’re treated at the death of a loved one is critical,” he explained. “And so, I always just try to bring that patient love of Jesus to them at the funeral services.”
How does Msgr. Mikulanis plan to spend his retirement?
For one thing, he said, brother priests have already started asking him to celebrate Masses at their parishes.
“I also joke with people that, if I’m not saying Mass … on a weekend, I’ll go to church somewhere and sit in the back of the church and complain about the air-conditioning, the sound system, and the use of incense at Mass.”