Brother James Mullen, 1936-2016
Brother James "Jim" Mullen, SVD, 80, a jack-of-all trades and lifelong learner, passed away on Sept 5 at Techny, Ill.
Based in New Jersey for the past 25 years, Brother Jim was known among immigrants and the marginalized in Trenton for his work with Catholic Charities, Martin House Learning Center and the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK).
In 1992, Brother Jim became a case manager for Catholic Charities’ Christopher House, a center in Trenton that treats clients with mental, emotional and behavioral issues. While working there, he helped clients secure housing, social security, food stamps and other welfare benefits. He also developed a horticulture therapy group that used plants as a way of facilitating meditation.
Five years later, he was named English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) coordinator for Martin House Learning Center, a program established by the Diocese of Trenton. Despite having few possessions, he spent his own money to purchase pencils and paper for his ESL students.
Brother Jim taught students from different corners of the earth, including Afghanistan, Chad, Guatemala, Haiti, Lebanon, Liberia, Poland, Russia and Thailand. By allowing parents to bring their families to his classes, he also aided the education of children who eventually returned to tell him of their success in college.
Born in Erie, Penn., in 1936, and named after his father, he was the oldest of James and Helen (nee Conboy) Mullen’s six children. The future brother entered Divine Word seminary at Girard, Penn., in 1950, later transferred to the Divine Word Brother Candidate School in Conesus, N.Y., and professed religious vows in 1956.
He served his first two assignments at Conesus and Girard, where he worked on the dairy farms that supplied food and milk to the students and staff at the seminaries.
Eventually, an interest in ham radios (also known as amateur radios) led to an assignment to Papua New Guinea. He spent a year studying electronics, electricity and refrigeration at a trade school in Chicago. In 1963, he left for the South Pacific, where he managed an electrical power plant and 15 employees in Alexishafen, Papua New Guinea.
Brother Jim also oversaw two sawmills that supplied timber for construction, and he trained the indigenous people in the lumber trade. Later, Brother Jim lived in Italy for 14 years, working as a draftsman in the Divine Word Architectural Department at the Society’s worldwide headquarters.
After returning to the United States, he worked at Perrysburg, Ohio, for two years before being assigned to Bordentown in the Diocese of Trenton. Earlier this year, he moved from Bordentown to Techny for retirement.
Brother Jim’s wake and funeral took place on Sept. 9 in the chapel of Divine Word Residence, followed by burial at St. Mary Cemetery in Techny.
He is survived by three sisters and one brother—Maureen Mullen, Meg Kessler, Kathy Niemic and Gerard Mullen.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in the name of Brother Jim Mullen can be made for the care of elderly and infirm missionaries and sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.
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