When Father Richard Mullins was a young boy in grade school at Our Lady of Good Counsel School in Vienna, Virginia, he knew he wanted to be a Catholic priest someday.

“It was the only thing I ever wanted to be,” he said. “I didn’t understand why everyone didn’t want to be a Catholic priest. I thought it was the best job anyone could ever have and so that really stuck with me and became a goal.”

Now the pastor of St. Thomas Apostle Parish in Washington, D.C., Father Mullins celebrated his 25th anniversary of ordination on May 20, marking a quarter century of ministry to various parishes and communities in the local area.

“I love what I do and I would do it all over again,” Father Mullins said of his past 25 years.

Growing up in the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Father Mullins was ordained a priest in 1995 by Bishop John Richard Keating at the St. Thomas More Cathedral in Arlington. His first assignment brought him to Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Winchester, Virginia, where he began a Spanish Mass for the local community.

Throughout his next two assignments, Father Mullins was a parochial vicar at St. Michael Parish in Annandale and then at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Ashburn, also in Virginia. In 2003, he helped the Diocese of Arlington open its Office of Multicultural Ministries as the cultural diversity within the diocese continued to grow.

“I helped different ethnic communities have Masses and the sacraments in their own language and tried to find them priests,” Father Mullins said. “I really enjoyed that work.”

Father Richard Mullins (Photo courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald)

After six years as director of the multicultural ministries office and the bishop’s delegate for diocesan development, Father Mullins served as administrator at St. Louis Parish in Alexandria from 2009-12 and at St. Paul’s Church in Hague from 2012-13.

Father Mullins came to the Archdiocese of Washington in 2013 to begin a branch of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, a small community of priests who live a common life with one another “as a family,” sharing meals and praying together. The founder of these oratories where priests live under a rule but do not take vows, St. Philip Neri, Father Mullins said, is the patron saint of Christian joy. “We try and bring joy to what we do,” Father Mullins said.

Last year, Father Mullins began classes at The Catholic University of America for a master’s degree in church management. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, he said he was able to bring many of the lessons learned in the class to life.

“The class would ask the questions, what happens when you have to have all your Masses online… what happens if you have to change your financial structure,” he said. “It was sort of interesting watching my class unfold and then seeing all of these particulars come to life.”

Because of his experience with his classes at The Catholic University of America, Father Mullins said he was able to move his parish’s Masses and other activities to an online platform easily. “We were the second parish to have online daily Mass in the archdiocese,” he said.

In order to continue much of the parish’s work during the pandemic, marriage prep transferred easily to Zoom, as did Bible studies.

“We went to a complete virtual community, but we stayed together as a family,” Father Mullins said. “COVID has been a challenge, but I think that we’ve met the challenge.”

As Father Mullins continues to assess the needs of his parish as they slowly reopen, he said that continuing formation for parishioners is essential. “People come and want to learn and grow in their faith,” he said.

Being a pastor is a highlight of his ministry, Father Mullins said, adding that having attended Masses with three popes -- St. John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis – is another gift.

“But the greatest blessings a priest can give is being with people when they die, at the moment of death,” he said. “When you’re able to be there, holding somebody’s hand – that is one of the greatest gifts… to be able to accompany someone as they transition from this life into the next.”

Since 2007, Father Mullins, who is also a chaplain in the Order of Malta, has travelled annually with the sick to Lourdes, France, the site of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s apparitions to St. Bernadette in 1858.

“Working with the sick there and bringing them to Our Lady’s sanctuary of Lourdes is always a great joy,” he said. While his trip for this year was postponed, he said that going every year has been a wonderful blessing in his life.

Another ministry close to the heart of Father Mullins is prison ministry – when he had the opportunity to say Mass weekly for men who were incarcerated.

“They were hungry for the faith and they were incredibly responsive,” he said. “Men that I said Mass for in that prison were some of the most responsive and attentive listeners that I ever had. For them, the Tuesday nights that they had Mass was the highlight of their week. I was always impressed at the amount of devotion that they had.”

Many of the men he still keeps in contact with, Father Mullins said.

Celebrations for Father Mullins’s 25th anniversary were set aside and the parish surprised him with a drive-by party on the day of his anniversary.

“Although it wasn’t what people have for an anniversary, it was still a very special occasion,” Father Mullins said. “Celebrating in that way allowed me to look at the Confirmation kids that couldn’t get confirmed and the wedding couples that had to alter their plans and the First Communicants who didn’t get their First Communion in May, and I was able to feel a sense of solidarity with the parish in a lot of ways.”