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Taking it to heart


For the Rev. H. Charles Mulholland, the life of a Roman Catholic priest was a good fit. Simple living came naturally to him. He almost never went to the mall. His only material joy was his books. Celibacy? No problem. His faith was his love. The Sermon on the Mount, the quintessential summation of the Christian faith, was central to his life.

Father Charlie, as he was affectionately known to scores of North Carolinians, died July 21 at a Long Island nursing home following a long battle with diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. His death at age 80 is a blow to scores of the poor, gays and lesbians, Latinos, prisoners, the homeless and hungry with whom he worked over many years. It was to these--the least of God's brethren--that Charlie devoted his life.

In his 45 years as a priest in the Raleigh Diocese, Charlie left his mark in so many places it would be impossible to mention them all. He personally delivered food, money and fuel to people's homes. He was a familiar sight at city council chambers calling on elected officials to provide better public services.

In the 1970s, long before the public knew much about the plight of farm workers, Charlie would travel to remote migrant camps in Eastern North Carolina to celebrate mass, baptize children and distribute food. Usually, he'd bring along an old movie projector and show a film. To his surprise, crowds came to watch even the silly travel documentaries he showed on sweltering summer nights.

Gay and lesbian Catholics knew they could call on Charlie when they needed an open-minded priest to say mass, lend an ear or offer kind words. Staunchly pro-labor, Charlie could also be counted on to join local picket lines and support union-building efforts. He was a regular visitor at jails, prisons and on death row.

When an execution was announced, Charlie would often be among the clergy who met with governors to urge clemency. When executions were carried out in the dead of night, he'd be standing outside Central Prison holding a candle, leading a prayer or comforting family members of the condemned.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Charlie took early public stands in support of civil rights and against the Vietnam War. He was a co-founder of the Greenville Peace Committee and one of the few whites active in the Pitt County NAACP.

A few years ago, he was among a group of Triangle peace activists taken into custody by military police at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro for staging a protest at a naming ceremony for the nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bomber. In the Triangle, Charlie helped out each year at the Peace Booth at the N.C. State Fair. He also founded a disarmament vigil that's still held each month on Fayetteville Street Mall in Raleigh.

A faithful Catholic who attended mass every day, Charlie loved the church but did not care much for orthodox formality. Rather, he took to heart the simple messages of Jesus to love neighbor as self, and support the outcast.

Charlie was a friend and admirer of the late Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. Like Day, he was known to "comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable."

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