Jubilarian Profile: Brian Cullinane Marks 50 Years as a Friar

Wendy Healy Friar News

This is the first in a series of profiles of Holy Name Province friars who are marking major anniversaries as Franciscans in 2015. Brian and the other jubilarians commemorating 50 and 25 years of profession will be honored by the Province in June.

BOSTON ­— As Brian Cullinane, OFM, prepares to commemorate his 50th anniversary as a friar this year, he looks back joyfully on a life of parish ministry.

Except for an early assignment at St. Bonaventure University in Western New York, Brian has devoted his work to church communities in New York, New Jersey, and now in Boston.

“My first assignment was at St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street in New York, and now I am at St. Anthony Shrine. I started ministering at a great place and could end at great place,” he said. At age 70, he hopes to continue his ministry for many more years.

Called to Serve
Brian realized his vocation as a young boy, when at just 13 years old, he asked his parents if he could attend the Franciscans’ high school program at St. Joseph Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y. He grew up three blocks away from Holy Name College, the Province’s house of studies, in Washington, D.C.

One of five children from an Irish family, Brian and his brothers served benediction at a nearby chapel, and got to know the newly ordained friars living at Holy Name College. The late Norman Moynihan, OFM, piqued Brian’s interest in joining the Order.

“Norman was very Irish and became friends with our family, visited our home and ate dinner with us,” said Brian. “He gave my older brother John literature on the Franciscans, and my brother wanted no part of it. But I started reading and said to my parents, ‘I’d like to try this.’”

After mild objection from his parents, who wanted him to attend a local high school, Brian applied and was accepted at the Franciscan seminary in rural Sullivan County, N.Y., as the youngest in his class. “It was ironic. My acceptance to the seminary arrived on my dad’s birthday, so it was God’s doing,” Brian said.

What drew him to the friars, he said, was the joy he felt emanating from Holy Name College. “Joy was everywhere and the friars’ mission work was also impressive.”

Joy is still a constant theme for Brian, who describes himself as an upbeat person. He often counsels people at the Shrine about how to live joyfully, advising them to lighten up. “I tell people not to take life so seriously. Be able to laugh at yourself, and enjoy yourself and everything around you. We all have so many opportunities. With community, family and friends, how can you be anything but joyful?”

Brian said becoming a friar was the best decision he has ever made. After Callicoon, he was received into the Franciscan Order at St. Raphael’s Novitiate in Lafayette, N.J., professing first vows there in 1965. He changed his baptismal name, James Dolan, to Brian Patrick to signify his new life as a friar.

He continued his education at the Province’s house of philosophy, St. Francis College in Rye Beach, N.H., earning a bachelor’s degree from St. Bonaventure University in 1967. Brian made his solemn profession in 1969 in Washington.

From 1967 to 1971, he lived at Holy Name College, in his old neighborhood, studying theology. “My parents didn’t really understand community living and why I didn’t want to come home for dinner,” he said with a smile.

He received a master’s degree in theology in 1971 from the Washington Theological Union, through Augustinian College, and was ordained a priest in January of that year.

An Interest in Radio and TV
After ordination, Brian went to St. Francis Church in New York City for pastoral training. During this time, he traveled once a month to New Jersey with his classmates to be mentored by Mychal Judge, OFM, and the two became good friends. “I remember him saying, ‘You studied your theology, but now let’s talk practical things about being a Franciscan priest.’”

Later that year, he was assigned to St. Elizabeth Parish in Wyckoff, N.J. “I was delighted. It was my first experience working with families and a school, and the parish was most welcoming.”

For the next two summers, Brian attended the University of Detroit studying radio and television production. He was especially interested in working at the Franciscan Communication Center in Los Angeles. After Detroit, he went to Los Angeles, where he served as a technical adviser for an episode of the Gunsmoke TV series. “I had access to everything in Studio City,” said Brian. He even taught an actor playing a Franciscan priest to speak Latin well enough to say Mass on the show.

In 1975, Brian was assigned to St. Bonaventure University in Allegany N.Y., after having spent the summer assisting at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Greenwood Lake, N.J. “I went to SBU for one year and ended up staying for nine years,” he recalled. He started in campus ministry and was appointed vice president of university relations, overseeing fundraising, public relations and sports information.

An NFL Chaplain
Through a connection with an alumnus, Brian was asked to be the chaplain for the New Orleans Saints NFL team. From 1979 to 1983, Brian celebrated Mass for the Saints during away games, led prayer services, ate with the team, and stood with the coaches and players on the sidelines.

In 1984, he took a sabbatical in Boston, studying at Harvard University and Weston School of Theology in Cambridge. He also went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land with the late Stephen Doyle, OFM. When Brian returned to the U.S., he was assigned to Holy Name Church in Garfield, N.J., where he ran the Come Home program for Catholics who had stopped going to church.

In 1989, Brian became pastor of St. Leo’s Parish in Elmwood Park, N.J., a large parish, where he spent 10 enjoyable years. He took another six-month sabbatical in 1999, studying in Rome at the “Franciscan Challenge.” Afterward, he was assigned to Holy Angels Church in Little Falls, N.J. Three years passed before he became pastor of Assumption Church in Wood-Ridge, N.J. He ministered from 2002 to 2011 before moving to St. Anthony Shrine.

Brian serves the Arch Street community in a variety of roles — celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, counseling, helping with annulments and other needs. While the Shrine is very busy, with more than 20 ministries, Brian thrives on activity.

“It’s a parish blown sky-high,” he said, describing the vibrancy of the Arch Street community. “I’m delighted to be here.”

He said that he has felt most at home in pastoral work, and was especially fond of St. Leo’s Parish because it was his first assignment as pastor and guardian. “I still have great friends in all the places I’ve worked.”

In his spare time, he enjoys making stained glass, a hobby in which he’s been interested for 30 years. The St. Francis Friary in New York City bears a window with the HNP emblem that Brian created. He is also an avid football fan and cheers for the Washington Redskins and, of course, the New England Patriots.

He likes to travel and spend time with his siblings and 17 nieces and nephews. He recalls with fondness an 8th grade trip with his family to meet relatives in Ireland as giving him the “travel bug,” He has returned to Ireland many times and has celebrated weddings and other special events for the family.

He counts Norman Moynihan, as well as the late Brennan Connelly, OFM, and Flavian Walsh, OFM, among his mentors and feels grateful to have lived with Flavian at the Shrine.

Brian said he would like to be remembered as a “good and joyful friar” who was happy to be part of Holy Name Province.

— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today.