IC assignment gives Paulist priest southern exposure

Father Gerard Tully embraces Mother Mary after leaving Ma Bell

Father Gerard Tully, CSP, is the associate pastor at Immaculate Conception Church in Knoxville, his first assignment in the southern United States.

He has served in Arizona, Texas, Oregon, Rome, and Canada. Father Tully was the elder of two sons born to Anne and the late Matthew Tully in New York. He was educated in Catholic schools through high school and graduated from Cathedral Preparatory Seminary, the minor seminary for the Archdiocese of New York. Father Tully graduated from Manhattan College and worked for Bell Telephone Co. as a trainer for several years prior to joining the Paulists. He was ordained May 14, 1994, at St. Paul the Apostle Church in New York by Bishop Frank J. Rodimer.

When did you first think about a vocation to the priesthood? 

I think the seeds were planted in elementary school. I remember once when I was in fifth grade, we were doing one of these projects about what you want to be when you grow up and we had to do research. At the time, one thing that fascinated me was aerospace. I was thinking I wanted to be an airline pilot or an astronaut. I told this to my fifth-grade teacher, Sister Rowena, and she said, “No, you’re going to be a priest.” I said, “Really, you think so?”

What process did you follow to test your vocation?

When it was time for high school, I was encouraged by one of our parish priests to look at going to the minor seminary. I had four very happy years there, but at that time I wasn’t really too sure—I still wanted to test it a little bit. I decided to go to a liberal arts college, Manhattan College, run by the Christian Brothers.

I ended up being hired by the Bell system and afterwards worked for Nynex, the spinoff of Bell, for a couple of years. During that time, my father had gotten sick and I didn’t want to do anything until I saw how that all settled down. My father died in 1986 and at that point I was glad that I had waited and I remember about two years after that, I finally said to myself, OK, I don’t see myself staying in corporate America and I knew it really wasn’t for me. I realized I wanted to do something in terms of a more ministerial background, so I started the process up again.

Did you ever consider being a diocesan priest or were you prepared for what it would mean to be an order priest?

When I was looking at and thinking about becoming a diocesan priest, one of the things that I realized was that if I became a diocesan priest, I was pretty much going to be in a parish by myself and I really didn’t want that. I really need people around me, people to live with, and that’s why I felt that I really wanted a religious community to live in.

What are some of the other things you enjoy about being a priest? 

I enjoy working with children. When you talk to the kids, they have a way of bringing you back down to earth. When you’re talking to some of those kids and you listen to their understanding of who Jesus is and how God loves them, it just really, for me as a priest, just brings me back to where I need to be functioning in that ministry. I find, too, that I enjoy doing hospital ministry. What I often find is it’s always great to go see the patients, but sometimes a lot of the work you can do as a priest is with the staff.

What do you find most challenging?

When people come at you with that rhetorical, age-old, metaphysical question, “Why?” Why is this happening to me? Or where is God, particularly when you find people encountering setback after setback. It’s a tough one to answer and I just tell people that’s the meaning of the Incarnation, the Word made flesh. God truly entered into the human estate to be one with us and share with us in all these experiences and that’s what people really need to be reminded of. You’re not going through this alone because you have a faith community around you.

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