Fifty years … times two.
Since mid-1964, and only a few weeks apart, Father Owen J. Mullen and Father William “Bill” R. Headley, C.S.Sp, chose the same vocation at ages 25 and 26, respectively — Priesthood in the Catholic Church.
Mullen was ordained May 16, 1964, in the Wilmington Diocese of Delaware. Headley was ordained June 4 and, soon after, assigned to an African-American parish in Charleston, S.C.
Those places were at the start of their journey and what’s transpired since then has been equally rewarding, fulfilling, multifaceted and, in many ways, on their terms.
Mullen: A Wonderful Life
“What I’ve been able to do isn’t the ordinary route of a Diocesan priest where you go to a parish and stay there until the bishop moves you,” Mullen said.
Sure, he’s performed thousands of Masses, hundreds of weddings, baptisms, confirmations and funerals. But it was no surprise at Mullen’s May 4 Golden Jubilee Mass to see ample representation from military, USD athletics, University Ministry, and Phi Kappa Theta fraternity members.
It wasn’t alarming either when Father Peter McGuine, pastor of Our Lady Grace, spoke of the many roles that Mullen, who convinced McGuine to enter the priesthood 24 years ago, had held. “He’s been a friend, mentor, a guide, a shepherd, a retired motorcycle rider…”
Retired Army Colonel Wes Sherman, a district representative of California Congressman Duncan Hunter, presented Mullen with four gifts. Perhaps the most notable was learning that Hunter, on April 30, gave an extension of remarks for permanent inclusion in the Congressional Record to commemorate Mullen’s accomplishments as a priest and his military service.
Mullen, who retired with the rank of Colonel on Aug. 31, 2001, was first commissioned in 1968 as a First Lieutenant in the Delaware National Guard. He went with the Army Reserves in 1979 where he was stationed at the U.S. Military Academy admissions office to counsel candidates for West Point. He was a summer chaplain for incoming cadets for 11 years. He came to USD in 1981 as an associate chaplain. He went back to West Point in 1989 as an active duty Army Lieutenant Colonel Catholic Cadet Chaplain until 1997 when he was promoted to Colonel and assigned as a Senior Army Chaplain in Hawaii. He returned to USD in 2004 as its University Chaplain to work with football, basketball, baseball and club lacrosse, Phi Kappa Theta and University Ministry.
“It’s not often that I can look out and know every single person in the congregation,” Mullen said at his Golden Jubilee Mass. “But as I look back on 50 years, I think the priesthood has allowed me to do so many things that other professions, perhaps, would not have allowed. It’s been a wonderful life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Headley: Passion for Peace
Father Headley, who from 2007 to 2012 was the founding dean of USD’s Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, said he knew in grade school he wanted to be a priest. What sealed the deal was learning about human struggles internationally.
“I remember being in sixth or seventh grade and a member of our community came in and show us a movie about Africa,” he recalled. “I was smitten.”
Headley has had a whirlwind of service and learning opportunities. Headley, whose education includes a degree from NYU, post-doctoral work at Harvard Divinity School, George Mason and the Gandhi Peace Institute in New Delhi, India, has traveled to 80 different countries. He’s developed a broad background in Church leadership, justice, peace and international aid.
He belongs to a missionary community of priests, brothers and lay people known as the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, or Spiritans. His roles and experiences through this association helped him understand and see the world in its many forms.
“The spirit has moved through my life in certain ways and I’ve had opportunities far more than I would have ever anticipated or imagined,” he said. “I had the capacity to go into international situations because of my training in sociology and spend relatively short periods of time to study, reflect, and help practical missionaries make determinations about their ministry. I found when I was going back and forth that this was much more the type of ministering I preferred.”
Headley’s interest in Africa, seeking ways to stop intra-state conflict, deepened his commitment to peace education. He did a sabbatical from his work as director of the International Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation Office in Rome to explore the grassroots efforts of peacemaking efforts in Northern Ireland, Israel/Palestine, South Africa and Haiti.
“I began to specialize in that about 20 years ago,” he said. “I founded a graduate program at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and then went to Catholic Relief Services where we tried to apply it in a practical way.”
His work focused on relief, development and justice and peace programs. Headley was a peace builder. He assisted with conferences involving bishops in Ghana, Nigeria, the Balkans, Sudan, Haiti, Burundi and Myanmar.
Headley then came to USD to be the Peace Studies dean. While the master’s program began a few years prior to Headley’s arrival, he was here for the school’s inauguration, led community listening groups for an inclusive voice on the school’s direction and hired faculty. The master’s program also grew from one 12-month track to two, an 18-month program geared to develop a new generation of peacemakers. Combine all of that with a robust Trans-Border Institute and the impressive international work and on-campus programming in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice and the school thrived.
“The opportunity to build something from scratch is a rewarding and energizing experience,” he said.
Nevertheless, as Headley prepares for his Golden Jubilee Mass — 4 p.m., Thursday, May 22, Founders Chapel — he’s approaching it and other celebratory events surrounding the milestone with a humble approach.
“I’m going back to places I’ve been and I’ll offer liturgies, follow with simple receptions to touch back on the relationships I’ve developed over the years. I don’t have the satisfaction of serving people in one geographical region constantly over a long period of time.”
But Father Headley and Father Mullen, while different in their approach, do share one important trait. All of the work they’ve done is only to benefit others. It’s what they signed up for in 1964 and, as they reflect on 50 years now, it’s a promise everyone knows they’ve kept.
— Ryan T. Blystone
Bottom photo of Father William Headley courtesy of Rodney Nakamoto