By Michael Rizzo
Msgr. Terrence Mulkerin was ordained in 1961 but in 1988 he heard the call of another vocation and he answered it. He volunteered to serve in the U.S. military.
Msgr. Mulkerin is one of several retired priests living at the Mugavero Residence at the Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston who are veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. For the 82-year-old monsignor, his was a 20-year career as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the work,” Msgr. Mulkerin said during breakfast at the Mugavero Residence. “I was being a pastor to them,” he added in describing his work at the bases where he served. “I said Mass and was there for them when they needed support or consoling.”
Msgr. Mulkerin was no stranger to having military personnel in his life when he grew up in Holy Cross parish in Flatbush. His grandfather, father and two brothers all served the country in uniform. Msgr. Mulkerin was also unaffected by being assigned to far-flung locations like Alaska or Scotland. Before his military service, he spent five years in Africa with Catholic Relief Services.
“I took each day as it came,” he said of his service as a priest and chaplain. He also encouraged younger priests to consider volunteering as chaplains.
“They should bring their talents to work as a priest and to support the families of the military,” he said.
Deacon Matt Oellinger, the diocese’s coordinator of the Office of Senior Priests, said he sees how retired priests at the residence who have military experience are more deliberative in their thinking of how to resolve problems. Other retired priests at Douglaston, like Fathers Eugene Coyle and Raymond Schmidt, have military service in their backgrounds.
Surveys by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops of priests ordained in the past few years found that up to 5 percent of them served in the armed forces before ordination.
That’s the history of Father Daniel Keohane who also resides at the Immaculate Conception Center. Father Keohane’s service came before he entered the priesthood. He volunteered for the U.S. Army in 1965 and served until 1967. He went through basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C. and later became a chaplain’s assistant with Third United States Army at Fort McPherson in Atlanta.