Fr Thomas McNulty was a caring, humorous, and holy man who wanted to be a priest from a young age.
He was dedicated and happy in his role as a pastor of souls and continued to be active in ministry long after his official retirement.
Thomas McNulty was born in Chicago in 1933 to parents John and Jean who had emigrated from Scotland and he was baptised at St Cyril’s in the city.
They returned to Scotland in 1937 and the family, including his four sisters (Margaret, Mary, Frances and Sally) lived in the Sighthill area of Edinburgh.
Thomas attended St John's in Portobello (1938-1940) and Holy Cross in Edinburgh (1940-45) before heading to Blairs College, the junior seminary in Aberdeenshire.
He would joke that when considering his vocation, he approached his parish priest and said: “Father, I've got half a mind to become a priest”. “That's good, son,” the priest replied, “it's all you’ll need!”
He studied for the priesthood at St Sulpice in Paris (1951-56) and was ordained at St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh in 1956 alongside his good friend Fr James Friel (1933-2019).
He served in seven parishes in the Archdiocese: St Mary, Kirkcaldy (1956-1963), St Bernadette, Larbert (1963-1969), St Columba, Edinburgh (1969-1972), Our Lady & St Margaret, Duns (1972-1984) St Kentigern, Edinburgh (1984-1998), Sacred Heart, Penicuik (1998-2001) and Our Lady of the Waves, Dunbar (2002-2006), from where he retired.
Fr Tom’s longest appointment was at St Kentigern’s, and parishioners have fond memories of his time there.
When he first arrived to begin his ministry, a parishioner offered to help fetch his bags not knowing that all his belongings were in the one bag he was already carrying.
He managed to strike the balance of being sociable and approachable while also enjoying his own company and long walks (he would often head into the Pentland hills with his dog, and at one time had a camper van to take him further afield).
He was a prayerful man who enjoyed a joke and was known for having a good rapport with the children.
At one Good Friday service, he pleased the parents of a young girl who was crying following the death of Jesus by reassuring her that Jesus would be back on Sunday!
He had a good cohort of altar servers and would treat them with a trip to the panto each Christmas, followed by fish and chips. Two of his former servers later invited him to minister at their respective weddings.
Parishioners also remember him sending sick people and helpers to Lourdes and he was faithful to the Archdiocesan Lourdes Pilgrimage.
Fr Tom was a strong singer and put together a talented group at St Kentigern’s to provide music at Mass. Although he lived fairly frugally he enjoyed his pipe, a good red wine and fine cheese.
After retirement he stayed for a time at St Margaret’s in Davidson’s Mains and then in Ratho before moving to Holy Cross Parish in the Warriston area in 2008. Fr Daniel Doherty, parish priest of Holy Cross at the time, described him as a “quiet, cheery and prayerful presence”.
He said: “He was very supportive to me and was concerned about my workload and offered to help out throughout his time at the parish. He was a very wise man, a bit like a grandfather figure in the parish.”
Fr Tom celebrated the 60th anniversary of his ordination in 2016 at St Joseph’s House, the former care home and residence run by the Little Sisters of the Poor in Gilmore Place, Edinburgh.
Archbishop Leo Cushley wrote to him at the time saying: “Your continued hard work, and your positive and youthful attitude surely flow from a deep understanding to which you have come, after many years at the altar of God, that at your ordination
"He changed you and has since used you as a special instrument of His care for the Church and the human family.”
Fr Tom was fond of the Little Sisters and would often say Mass for them. He had hoped to reside there in his final years but it sadly closed in 2018.
He moved instead to the Holy Rosary Residence in Greenock, which is also run by The Little Sisters. Before Covid he would travel back to Edinburgh a few times a year to catch up with friends that he missed.
He enjoyed decent health into his eighties and would say Mass in the care home’s chapel, often leading the singing! (Following his death, one of the sisters remarked ‘Who will lead us in singing now?’).
He continued to enjoy walking and was a regular sight along the town’s esplanade.
'A truly devoted priest'
Mgr Francis Kerr, a retired priest of the Archdiocese and a fellow resident at the Holy Rosary Residence in Greenock, said: “Fr Tom was a very humble and reserved person and a truly devoted priest.
He was always willing to supply for me either at St Joseph's home in Edinburgh or here in Greenock whenever I wished to go on holidays or have an overnight.
“He was very popular with the Sisters, the residents and staff. We will all miss his presence, his cheerful remarks, his good humour and general friendliness towards all as well as his willingness to offer any extra Masses for special groups who would come to the Home for Mass.”
Sir Tom Farmer and his late wife Anne were good friends of Fr Tom. He said: “Throughout the many years of friendship that my wife Anne and I enjoyed with Father Tom McNulty, I was always grateful for his abundant kindness and compassion for people, his wise and clear sharing of the word of Scripture and his wonderful companionship as a man who always had a great story to tell.
"We who have encountered him can forever be grateful that we met a true man of God.”
Fr Tom's family said: “Fr Tom was a devoted brother to his sisters, all of whom sadly predeceased him. He would attend family Christmases with his niece, Joanna, and her family while his nephews, Nigel and Chris, spent some of their summer holidays with him in Duns for a number of years. His nephews and nieces further afield also kept in touch with him. He will be sadly missed.”
Fr Tom died peacefully at Inverclyde Hospital on Saturday 6 January after a short illness. He was 90.
The Requiem Mass took place at St Kentigern’s on Monday 15 January with Archbishop Cushley as the principal celebrant.
He said in his homily: "The young men who were sent to St-Sulpice in Paris after the War formed an impressive group of friends and comrades. They worked faithfully in this diocese for many years, although their presence is now fading away with the passing of time.
"Fr Tom was a gentle pastor of souls, but he was also a man of firm conviction. He was of another school, the old school, but what a wonderful example he was of the best of it."
Fr Tom was laid to rest with his mother and father at the family plot at Mount Vernon Cemetery. May he rest in peace.
Images courtesy of the family of Fr Thomas McNulty.