NEW MILFORD — A former rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church died recently, leaving behind a legacy of advocating for the homeless, immigrants and others who are disenfranchised.

The Rev. Gail Keeney-Mulligan died Jan. 24 of Pick’s Disease, a rare form of progressive dementia. She was 61.

“We grew spiritually and by numbers while she was there,” said Kim Polhemus, the senior officer at St. John’s. “She taught us to look outside of our four walls to our town, country and world and to the needy among us.”

Polhemus described Keeney-Mulligan as thoughtful, forward-thinking, loving and caring, especially of the less fortunate and those on the margins.

Keeney-Mulligan was ordained more than 30 years ago and joined St. John’s in 2002. She left in June 2009 to be the chaplain at Seabury, an active life community in Bloomfield.

While at St. John’s, Keeney-Mulligan helped organize the New Milford Shelter Coalition, started a Spanish service that evolved into a bilingual worship shared with Northville Baptist Church and served as president of the New Milford Clergy Association Family.

She was active in protesting the arrest of illegal day laborers in Danbury in the early 2000s, Polhemus said.

“Immigration was a big part of her life,” Polhemus said. “Having a path to citizenship was important to her.”

New Milford Mayor Pete Bass said he was always impressed by Keeney-Mulligan’s passion for helping children and how she and her husband adopted two of their own: Katie from Peru and James from Panama. He also admired her dedication to the community.

“She was always there with a lending hand,” he said.

One of Keeney-Mulligan’s most notable accomplishments was how she rallied the congregation to rebuild the parish hall after it burned down in 2004. The new building was completed in 2006 and has been used by those in the community and local organizations, including the Community Culinary School of Northwestern CT and Literacy on the Green.

“It was very important to her to let our doors be open to nonprofits to use our space,” Polhemus said. “It was important we be multicultural and open.”

Keeney-Mulligan also opened the church to the homeless so they would have a place to stay. “She loved the idea of being a safe place for the homeless in New Milford,” Polhemus said.

Polhemus said these are principles that all Episcopalians live by, but Keeney-Mulligan truly embodied the message.

“I learned more from her than anyone on how to be an Episcopalian,” she said.

In an interview in 2009, Keeney-Mulligan said she drew on her strengths of “social activism'” and desire to create worship meant to “feed people,” while working with the congregation to find the church’s purpose.

“God is the master builder,'' Keeney-Mulligan said of her ministry plan before leaving New Milford. “I've done what I can do here. What comes next is for the next builder.”

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