OCEANSIDE — Beloved Mission San Luis Rey friar Brother Kelly Cullen passed away unexpectedly of a heart attack on Nov. 13, while in Rome, Italy, at age 57. A vigil was held Nov. 28 at Mission San Luis Rey and funeral services followed on Nov. 29.
Cullen served as a friar for 30 years. He joined Mission San Luis Rey in 2007 and conducted the retreat program, organized the Heritage Ball fundraiser and worked with grieving families.
He led retreats that ranged from Alcoholics Anonymous recovery to theology and prayer techniques. A memorable session led by Cullen was the “Wizard of Oz” retreat, in which he wore red sparkling shoes to illustrate his message.
Father David Gaa, the executive director at Mission San Luis Rey, said Cullen was vibrant, welcoming and displayed service to others. “He had a true gift of helping people with the grieving process, which we saw in his work at the (mission) cemetery,” Gaa said. “He’s someone we will all miss a great deal.”
Cullen was involved in a broad range of civic and community associations, including serving as a board member for the Ivey Ranch Park Association.
Cullen is credited for his work as a community organizer and advocate for the urban poor. For more than 10 years he served as executive director of the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization that provides low-income housing in San Francisco.
Cullen was born in Spokane, Wash. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Washington in Seattle in 1975 and joined the Franciscan friars in 1977. Cullen took his solemn lifetime vows as a Franciscan friar in 1982, and received his master of divinity degree from the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley the same year.
A memorial service will also be held Dec. 3 at St. Boniface Church in San Francisco.