Posted September 27, 2022
Fr. Joe McNulty was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Cleveland in 1969. Just three years into his priesthood, Fr. Joe was called to serve as chaplain to the Cleveland Catholic Deaf Community. In order to serve this community, he learned sign language at the urging of Sr. Corita, so persons who are deaf could have a signing priest with whom to identify.
Fr. Joe was assigned to St. Augustine Parish and in 1977 he became its Pastor. Along with Sr. Corita, Fr. Joe set to work on expanding the Church’s ministries to persons with disabilities as well as those experiencing homelessness and economic hardship. Under the compassionate leadership of Fr. Joe and Sr. Corita, St. Augustine Parish became a model Church and community for how to welcome persons with disabilities.
Fr. Joe believes not just in ministering “to” people but ministering “with” people. At St. Augustine’s you will see individuals with disabilities serving as readers and Eucharistic ministers “signing” and “singing” in the Deaf choir and the Church choir, as well as interpreting the readings or the mass when Fr. Joe is not there. He has helped to cultivate a church and community that welcomes all.
In addition to his role as pastor at St. Augustine, Fr. Joe became the Director of the Apostolate for the Deaf, which then became Catholic Charities Ministry to Persons with Disabilities (now Catholic Charities Disability Ministries). In this role, Fr. Joe served persons who are deaf, blind, persons with intellectual and other developmental disabilities (IDD), and persons with mental health issues and/or mobility challenges.
Fr. Joe has taken on a special dedication to enhancing the ministerial opportunities for persons with IDD. He developed The Beatitudes program, which is a special religious education program and sacramental preparation for children with severe IDD. He is a member of Faith and Light and developed a strong community at St. Augustine Church. He directed a monthly weekend retreat program for adults with IDD and facilitated retreats for persons with IDD, their families and friends in the Diocese of Columbus and in cooperation with Faith and Sharing in the Diocese of Cleveland.
According to Fr. Joe’s brother Dennis, who was the Disability Services Director for more than 30 years, "Fr. Joe creates community and shares his ministry with everyone. His humor, his down to earth manner and his genuine concern and openness has drawn people, revitalized his parish and created a vibrant ministry in the Diocese of Cleveland. Fr. Joe's greatest love is to serve as minister. When there is someone in need, he is there."
In addition to being a member of Faith and Light and Faith and Sharing, Fr. Joe also holds many memberships in other national organizations, which include: member of the Board of the National Apostolate for Inclusion Ministry; life membership in the International Catholic Deaf Association; member of the National Catholic Office of the Deaf; and member of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Fr. Joe is also the Episcopal Liaison for persons with mental illness and their families in the Diocese of Cleveland.
Fr. Joe has received many awards for his ministry, including the Archbishop Edward F. Hoban Award for Distinguished Service. This is the highest award in the Diocese of Cleveland, which was awarded him for his 35 years of compassion and dedication to persons with disabilities. He has been acknowledged with many other awards, including: the Walk of Life Award from the Irish American Archives Society; the Ruth Davidson Award from the American Council of the Blind; the Ecumenical Helping Hand Award from the Cuyahoga County Community Mental Health Board; the Dedication Award from the International Catholic Deaf Association Convention; and has received the Clergyman of the Year Award from the Knights of Columbus.
Fr. Joe’s dedication revitalized his parish and created a vibrant ministry in the Diocese of Cleveland. He is a true example of the mission of Catholic Charities. He responds to those in need. He respects the dignity of every person. He built a just and compassionate society, and his legacy lives on through his ministries, offering hope to everyone after his richly deserved retirement.
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