You could say that basketball saved Dan Mulhern’s life. Just a sport? For some. But for Mulhern it’s one that has been a teacher, a coach, a tool for amelioration, relationship building, and, today, a game for family fun.
Serendipitous is how Dan Mulhern ’86 describes his arrival at CM as a freshman. The move was precipitated by his youth basketball coach, Joe Day becoming the school’s head coach and who influenced his young player to follow. “I am the youngest of five and at the time I arrived at Catholic Memorial there weren’t a lot of straight lines in my life,” says Mulhern, remembering those who provided him with the necessary structure. To illustrate what he meant, Mulhern recalls Mr. [Richard] Chisholm who, as the assistant headmaster for student affairs, saw the freshman most every day. “The dean of discipline…” as Mulhern called him “…captured the perfect balance of compassion and accountability that was really a lifesaver for me.” It was during this time that he was introduced to what an education might have to offer. “Brother Cavet,” recalls Mulhern, “was new to the CM community, I think, and was the first educator who helped me understand that having a curious mind and being thoughtful was important. Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money. My parents were busy with five children. They were great examples for work ethic, but Brother Cavet taught me the value of intelligence and hard work in the classroom, and that classroom success could translate to overall success.” To this was basketball. It, along with academics, kept Mulhern focused, taught him how to spend his time constructively, and most importantly helped people see him as more than a one-trick pony. “I felt like the CM community really appreciated that and weren’t interested in putting me in a box. They encouraged me to be successful on many different levels.” That said, and by his own admission, Mulhern wasn’t the person picked out of the yearbook with any degree of certainty as a would-be success. “When I graduated,” he says, “there was a feeling of success, but there was also a nervous energy around still being a work in progress.”
Life After School
Graduating from St. Michael’s College with a bachelor’s degree in English didn’t represent the end of Mulhern’s education but the beginning. A period spent traveling and gaining life experience, his personal road to Damascus, you could say, came to an end when Mulhern entered law school. It also represented a return to a family motto often voiced by his Irish, US Marine father of “things in motion stay in motion.” Working towards the degree exemplified the motto. “I wasn’t able to afford law school, so I applied to go at night and worked full time during the day at the Attorney General’s office. Then, my father was kind enough to get me an overnight job, two or three times a week working for Boston Sand and Gravel. I also went through the summers so I could finish early. It was a hard time.” Mulhern’s path within law was determined by his past as was his decision to go to law school in the first place. “Growing up in Boston,” he recalls, “there were neighborhoods where levels of violence and crime created huge barriers for the wonderful people who were living in those communities. I wanted to be part of making sure that the quality of life in those communities was the same as the West Roxbury community, the Needham community and the Wellesley community.” This conviction led him to the Middlesex District Attorney’s office, then the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, becoming the chief of its gang unit and safe neighborhood initiative. He worked for then-Mayor Walsh as Director of Public Safety for the city of Boston, bringing a more holistic approach to the work of a prosecutor. A key tool in this was basketball. Mulhern and his unit would shoot hoops to connect with gangs as a means of breaking down barriers. “I saw a lot of common denominators with the people we’d play against, and a lot of greatness, frankly, in spaces that were dark.”
Return to CM
Concurrent with his professional climb, which is now as a partner at the Boston-based law firm, Nutter, McClennen and Fish, was the creation of a family—a busy time that was equally challenging. “Through this, I was never far from the CM community, I guess I would characterize it as being involved in a cheerleading capacity. It was really Dr. Folan who intentionally reengaged with me, which brought me back to the CM fold when I received the Vince in Bono Malum award in 2017.” Mulhern has kept in touch with his CM friends throughout his life. “Some of my dearest friends from high school are still my dearest friends today. Mr. Chisholm and I stayed in touch over the years as did Coach Day and I. CM is a very big part of my life.” And basketball? “Coach Tobin, I’ve known my whole life. Bruce Higgins (’93) as well as some of the other folks on past teams have been there, and I’ve paid attention to Brandon Twitty’s (’16) success because I had a friendship with his dad, Troy (’88) who I played with. Today, basketball helps me be a better father and teacher. It gives us time together as a family. It is also a place I can go back to when I need a reminder of those important lessons and insights.” Or in other words, when lines need to be straight.