Brother Paul T. Cullen, C.F.X.
“Stand ready to answer God when He asks you if you are available for Him to become more present in your life and through you to the world.”
– Fundamental Principles, Constitutions of the Xaverian Brothers
Every Christian receives such an invitation from God. Brother Paul Cullen’s answer was “I’m ready!” at various times in his life.
Paul was born in the Dorcester section of Boston in 1934, one of five Cullen brothers. The family eventually moved to Worcester and he attended St. John’s High School on Temple Street, graduating in 1952. He attended the College of the Holy Cross for two years, then answered God’s call for him to become a Xaverian Brother. He entered in 1954, and with the habit received the name Brother Elias, the name previously used by Brother Elias Scanlon, a well-known teacher at Temple Street. Two years’ novitiate and three years at Catholic University prepared him to enter the Brothers’ teaching ministry. St. John’s Prep, Keith Academy (where he was Athletic Director), four years as Assistant Headmaster to the former Brother Robertus Duffy in the new Malden Catholic, and later ten years at Xaverian Brothers High School was a relatively normal route expected by younger Brothers like him. However, while at Malden Catholic, God’s call was unexpected, and Paul was ready to embrace the new ministry of Director of Formation for the Northeast Province for three years.
After Newton Highlands, Paul attended Fordham University and received a Master’s in Spirituality. He then moved to Westwood and devoted himself to the ministry of religious education there, taking regular courses at Boston College and, for three years participated in the programs of Human Growth and Development offered by the Dominican Sisters at the Weber Center in Adrian, Michigan. These courses and programs were the unexpected preparation for God’s surprising new call.
In 1984, Provincial Brother James Sullivan asked Paul and Brothers James Connolly, Joseph Glebas and Lawrence Harvey to begin a new province ministry in Orangeburg, South Carolina. They moved into a former Convent of the Oblate Sisters of Providence and were soon busy with a variety of formal and informal ministries among the mostly black community. They hosted people to twice a week morning Masses, Morning and Evening Prayer, retreat days and evening courses. Paul’s warm, gently personality nurtured his personal gifts and training. The vitality of the community and their openness to the Spirit and commitment to Christ attracted others to the parish and mission school programs. Soon people were seeking Paul out for pastoral counseling and spiritual direction.
Paul’s 37 years in South Carolina demonstrated his lifelong commitment to Christ. His naturally warm heart inspired him to become a witness and advocate for justice for women in the Church. In his friendly, forthright way, he made known to the bishop of South Carolina, to other Church officials and the Pope the roles which Catholic women are called and needed to play in the church’s work. He also involved himself demonstrating for peace and justice at local events in Orangeburg and at the state capital in Charleston. In 1999, Bishop David Thompson of Charleston nominated Paul for the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Award which Pope John Paul II conferred on a very surprised Paul Cullen.
Over the years, a number of Brothers played significant roles in the Orangeburg mission. When Paul was the last member, he moved to a senior citizen housing facility where he was able to be of some assistance to his neighbors. He also became a witness to God’s call to save the planet and set up a vegetable garden at the home of his friend Anne Thompson.
As the years passed, Brothers and friends encouraged Paul to retire to either Louisville or Danvers where he could play a role in the community and receive any necessary care. In 2021, he answered God’s call to move to Xaverian House. The move was a very difficult one for Paul because of all his relationships in South Carolina. He moved in October and things seemed to be going very well for the community and Paul. However, in February God sent him another, surprising call. Excruciating pain was identified as cancer-related, and Paul decided that he would not allow any procedures that were not directed at relieving the pain. He chose to go to Mary Immaculate Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Lawrence where he would eventually receive hospice care. In May, the managed pain began to intensify and morphine was required to keep him pain free. His last couple of weeks he was pain free, but confused and then unresponsive. On May 29, Paul received his final call from God. Paul was ready. Again.
Paul was a dedicated follower of Christ whose faith in God inspired him to bring joy and hospitality as Brother to the sisters and brothers he met. He was always very affirming of others, confident of God’s love for him and them. He was not afraid to speak out when he knew of situations needing change. Elias would be proud of him.
Brother Robert J. Green, C.F.X.