Brother James Clair Gulnac, CSC

September 19, 1935 – April 27, 2016

Brother-James-Clair-GulnacThe prayers of the members of the Congregation of Holy Cross are requested for the repose of the soul of Brother James Clair Gulnac, CSC, a member of the Moreau Province of Brothers and Priests. Born in Kane, PA, Br. James died in Valatie, NY, on April 27, 2016. He was in his 60th year of religious life in the Congregation.

James Clair Gulnac was born on September 19, 1935, in Kane, PA, the third child of Arnold Walter Gulnac, an oil field worker, and Cornelia Rose Hoop, a factory inspector. James was baptized at the Church of St. Joseph in Mount Jewett, PA, on November 24, 1935, and was confirmed on April 28, 1949, at St. Bernard Church in Bradford, PA.

His elementary education began at M.J. Ryan Elementary School, Lafayette, PA, and was finished at St. Bernard School, Bradford, PA. He graduated from Bradford High School in June, 1955. During his high school years, James worked at a book shop as stock boy and later as a clerk. A recommendation from his pastor noted that, although James transferred to a public high school in his sophomore year, he maintained an interest in religious life. On his application, he wrote that his friends questioned him, and others suggested that he become a priest. He further wrote that his parents and older sister suggested that he become a religious brother and supported him in his vocation.

In September of 1955, James was admitted at St. Joseph Juniorate, Valatie, NY, as a candidate for the Congregation of Holy Cross. He was received as a novice on January 25, 1956, at St. Joseph Novitiate, Rolling Prairie, IN, where he made his first profession of vows on January 26, 1957. On August 23, 1960, Br. James professed his final vows as a religious.

Following first profession, Br. James began his college education at St. Edward’s University, Austin, TX, in the fall of 1957, completing a B.A. in Secondary Education in January, 1961. He received an M.A. in Counseling and Guidance from Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT, in May of 1972. In 1980, while at Notre Dame International School in Rome, Italy, he studied theology at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas.

Following graduation from St. Edward’s University in January of 1961, Br. James taught at Vincentian Institute in Albany, NY, for the spring semester.

Brother-James-Clair-Gulnac-2Having taken the Foreign Mission Vow, he left Albany in the summer to serve in Uganda, East Africa. There, he taught first at St. Leo’s Senior Secondary School in Fort Portal and then at St. Augustine Teacher Training College, Butiiti, Uganda, until 1968. He spent the 1968 year studying at Fairfield University while living at the community residence at Notre Dame High School, West Haven, CT. Br. James returned to Uganda to teach and later became Headmaster of St. Augustine Teacher Training College. Returning to the States in 1970, he taught for a year at Bethlehem Catholic High School, Bethlehem, PA, before returning to the Notre Dame High School residence to finish his degree at Fairfield University.

Between 1972 and 1997, Br. James was twice assigned to ministry as a guidance counselor at Notre Dame International School, Rome, Italy. He also served the Holy Cross mission of education at Bishop McNamara High School, Forestville, MD, St. Francis High School, Mountain, View, CA, and the Holy Cross School, New Orleans, LA. He was the Vocation Promoter for the Eastern Province of Brothers for one year and resided at Moreau Hall, North Easton, MA. That year of traveling was challenged by a Volvo that was in constant need of repair.

In September of 1997, Br. James moved to St. Joseph Center, Valatie, NY, where he assisted in the Well-Elder Program until he retired there. He loved riding his motorcycle on the back roads of Valatie, which was easy after navigating the streets of Rome on a little Vespa.

In time, Br. James was diagnosed with a slow-growing cancer. Although his health began to decline, he still very much enjoyed spirited exchanges at meals, hosting family, and taking rides on his motorcycle through the Berkshire backcountry where he would stop at various roadside places and engage in lively discussions. His love of the experience of motorcycling was shared with his father, Arnold. On home visits, James and his dad would motorcycle together through the countryside of northwestern Pennsylvania.

Along with nurses from St. Joseph Center, his sister Joan was able to be with Jim when he passed on to eternal life.

Br. William Zaydak, CSC

Loving Up on Uncle Jim

Brother-James-Clair-Gulnac-3Beethoven, Tolstoy, Churchill and Van Gogh ….are only a few brilliant individuals that had a different, and sometimes tortured, brain. My Uncle Jim, as many of you know, had a different brain. He often looked at the world in an interesting way and, for those of us that understood his illness, we were extremely privileged to have been part of this world that he lived.

I had the pleasure of spending time with Uncle Jim over the years here in Valatie and when he visited home. He truly loved his family and especially his sisters….although each had a different relationship with him because of their line up in the Gulnac clan, I know he loved each of you….

Mom/Joan – how you cared for him and supported him over the years, traveled to amazing places with him and, in the end, cared for him as he left this world. Sorry, but I don’t think he ever got over you cutting off his beautiful curls before Nannie had pictures taken.

Aunt Meredith – he so admired how you care for your children and special grandchildren and that your family is your center. I do, however, think he got over you not being born a boy.

Aunt Maryellen – how he stayed with you when he came to Bradford, your travels to Italy with him, the ice cream sundaes he would bring home and make from his earnings at Brown’s Boot Shop. And let’s face it, we all know you are the favorite.

Aunt Lea and Aunt Terry – he referred to as the little ones, tickling Lea’s arm, the two of you so thrilled whenever he came home to visit and, as Aunt Terry told me, “I just remember loving up on him when he would come home.”

On our rides here over the past year, we always stopped for a meal or to do some shopping and of course eat ice cream. I watched how he was so kind to strangers, from waitresses to people that worked at convenience stores – not only kind, but with a real interest in who they were and what was going on in their lives. His empathy was obvious. He had many friends here in this area, and we are so thankful to those of you that welcomed him into your lives and homes. Thank you, Erin.

Uncle Jim, through his vocation, counseled, taught and advised countless young people on their journey through life. We will never know the impact he had on those lives, but I’m sure they are better individuals today for knowing him.

Uncle Jim was a “bit “of a control freak, I actually think he may have controlled his date of passing.

He had a passion for numerology. The day he passed, 04-27-2016, adds up to 2047, which, added horizontally, is the number 13 – the number 13 is associated with genius. He would have LOVED this, and I would be remiss if I didn’t share that with everyone today.

We want to express our gratitude to all of the priests, brothers, nurses, aides and staff here at St. Joseph’s for loving Jim and understanding him over the years. We know at times it may have been frustrating.

There were suggestions to have him move to another room here at the house to accommodate his declining condition. Of course, he would not hear of this, and we understood that. His room, or his “cell” as he sometimes would call it, was where he lived for many, many years and he was so familiar with. He had the most wonderful and peaceful view of the mountains as he sat at his desk. He loved the hills and valleys of New York and Pennsylvania. Thank you for allowing him to stay in that room – although that may seem insignificant, it wasn’t.

In numerology, the time of his death is interpreted as “this number relates to change, transformation and something in your life changing or about to change for the better.” Well, we all know that something did happen, and his life did change, and he is in a wonderful place with Nannie, Poppie, my Dad, Aunt Beverly, Aunt Tootie, David and baby James.

On my last visit here a few weeks ago, as we drove through the Catskills, he told us he really hoped to get home again before he died. That of course didn’t happen, but I feel strongly that he is home and very efficiently straightening things out and getting things in order. Uncle Jim, Brother James, you will be deeply missed, but ever present.

– Remarks by Michele Marshall (Niece)
Chapel of St. Joseph Center, Valatie, NY
May 1, 2016

Wrestling with the Divine

Brother-James-Clair-Gulnac-4I want to first offer a few words of thanks to all of Br. Jim’s confreres in Holy Cross and to all the staff here at St. Joseph Center:  So “thank you” to Br. Ed Boyer and Br. Mark Knightly for your leadership and for your care for James, and thanks to ALL the staff here for your attentiveness and presence to James throughout his time at St. Joseph Center.

We are grateful that so many members of James’ family are able to be with us.  On behalf of the Moreau Province, I ask you, his family, to convey to the rest of your family our sadness – and our joy – and how comforting it has been for all of us to be gathered last night and now, today, at this Eucharistic celebration – which is truly a celebration of a loving God.

James has returned to our loving God, to where he was before being with us.  Returning to our loving God – that is, what happens before our existence on earth?  That is a deep question that James and I discussed several times.  But, more on that later…

Brother-James-Clair-Gulnac-5When Jim was first diagnosed with bone cancer, I asked him how he felt about it.  He was rather accepting of it, but commented that he was concerned about physical pain.  Although he was under hospice care, he kept an open mind – after all, what do the doctors really know?  He hoped, in fact, that he might improve a bit before a serious decline.

At a later point, although he had stopped driving because of vision problems, he still expected that he would get back to driving.  Over the months, whenever we talked, he shared the persistent attitude that things would get better.

But, there came a time when he decided that he wouldn’t get to ride his bike anymore.  He wondered to whom he was going to sell it –clearly, the motorcycle couldn’t go to just anybody.  He shared this quite matter-of-factly; it was just something to now do.  To me, that discussion indicated that he was accepting of his declining health, but still positive and forward looking.

Jim could talk at length, and I can listen at length.  So it was a good relationship.

Whenever we talked, there was inevitably a point in the discussion where he would suddenly comment on how much he had been talking and say, “So kiddo, what about you?  How are you doing?”

Now, when Jim would ask that, I always knew that it actually was a real question.  He wasn’t asking out of social convention, because it was a nice thing to say.  Jim was not into being socially conventional.

Since it was a real question, I would share with Jim a few major things that I was dealing with. We would talk about it a bit, and then he would always say he thought I was doing pretty good as the provincial.  I valued his remarks because I knew he wasn’t just saying something to be nice.  And sometimes after hearing him tell me what a great job I was doing, I would push a little button (actually a rather big button) by asking him – to pray for me.

Asking Jim to pray for you?  That would get a rather interesting dialogue going!  We would get into an animated discussion about prayer – especially intercessory prayer, which he certainly had opinions about!  Added to that, we would often segue into debates about the Trinity and the divine nature of Jesus.  Surprisingly, as our thoughts and ideas intersected, we found that there were a number of points we could actually agree upon!  He would often sum up the discussion saying, “Well, I don’t know…,” momentarily drifting off into silence, before launching into a new topic.

These discussions showed me how much Jim wrestled with the Divine. Even in those various periods of his life when he struggled and tried to make sense of his experience, Jim had God in his thoughts.  The Lord was clearly with him throughout good times and bad times, and Jim tried to recognize, understand and appreciate God’s loving accompaniment in his life.  He wrestled with that.

Brother-James-Clair-Gulnac-6The other day, Joan and I were talking about Jim’s situation.  I mentioned that Jim would often comment to me that the only pain he had was sometimes in his legs.  And Joan, you made the insightful comment that there are all sorts of pain, other than physical, that Jim – and all of us – experience.  Jim had his share of pain

and suffering, and we believe that he is now at rest.  He may be arguing the nature of the Holy Trinity or intercessory prayer right now, but he is at peace in doing so.  Certainly, he is now praying for me – I’m finally getting intercessory prayer from Jim.  Or, maybe not…

We believe that James is with all the saints; he is with all the deceased members of the family of Holy Cross, along with his parents, Cornelia and Arnold, and other family members.  He is in our thoughts, our hearts.  We pray to him and ask him to intercede for us, to watch over us and to care for us.

And so let us close with such a simple prayer:  James, our brother, may you rest in peace, intercede for us, watch over and protect us!  Amen!

– Remarks by Br. William Zaydak, CSC
Chapel of St. Joseph Center, Valatie, NY
May 1, 2016

Br. James Clair Gulnac, CSC served the Lord faithfully in the following ministries:

  • 1961-1962    Teacher, Vincentian Inst., Albany, NY
  • 1962-1962    Teacher, St. Leo’s SSS, Fort Portal, Uganda
  • 1962-1968    Teacher, St. Augustine TTC, Butiiti, Uganda
  • 1968-1968    Study Fairfield University, CT
  • 1968-1970    Teacher/Headmaster, St. Augustine TTC, Butiiti, Uganda
  • 1970-1971    Teacher, Bethlehem Catholic HS Bethlehem, PA
  • 1971-1972    Study, Fairfield University, CT
  • 1972-1973    Vocation Director, Moreau Hall, North Easton, MA
  • 1973-1978    Teacher/Guidance, NDI, Rome, Italy
  • 1978-1979    Counselor, Bishop McNamara HS Forestville, MD
  • 1979-1984    Teacher/Guidance, NDI, Rome, Italy
    1984-1990    Guidance, St. Francis HS Mountain View, CA
  • 1990-1991    Social Service, SOME, Washington, DC
  • 1991-1992    Guidance, Archbishop Carroll HS Washington, DC
  • 1992-1996    Asst. Director, St. Louis Community West Haven, CT
  • 1996-1997    Guidance, Holy Cross School New Orleans, LA
  • 1997-2008    Staff Assistant, St. Joseph Center, Valatie, NY
  • 2008-2016    Retired, St. Joseph Center, Valatie, NY