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Fr. John Sullivan S.J.

Saturday 13th May marks a significant day for the Irish Church, and especially the Irish Jesuit Province. An Irish Jesuit, Fr John Sullivan SJ will be beatified by the Church, i.e. become Blessed John Sullivan. It is the first beatification ceremony ever to take place in  Ireland. There is a special mass in Gardiner St Church at 11am with overflow streaming to adjacent venues, one of which is the O’Reilly Theatre in Belvedere College.

Here is a brief synopsis of the life of Blessed John Sullivan:

Born in Dublin in 1861, son of the last Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, he grew up in an Anglican/RC family. The custom of the time was that the boys were brought up in the church of the father, and the girls of the mother.  Thus the first thirty or so years of his life were lived in the Anglican Church.  Educated in Portora, Enniskillen, he was a top classical scholar in school, and in law in Trinity College. He was called to the Bar in London but never practised.

He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1900. It’s hard to know what brought him to the RC church. Maybe the faith of his mother, and the work with Sisters for the poor in Dublin. Whatever it was, he went a step further and in 1903 joined the Jesuits in Tullabeg, Rahan, Offaly. Pre-ordination studies were in England and Milltown Park, Dublin. His life also changed from the well-to-do very sought after bachelor of Dublin to Jesuit life where he practised simplicity and poverty to a heroic degree.

After ordination in 1907, he spent most of his years until his death in 1933 in Clongowes, a boarding school near Naas.

He was not a good teacher but was loved by the pupils. Called Johnny-O, his long hours of prayer in the college church did not go unnoticed. One boy said they would go into the chapel to watch him pray. That’s like the disciples saying – teach us to pray as your disciples do. We learn prayer from each other. His role in the school was also spiritual father, one who looked after the non-academic concerns of the pupils.

He never claimed to have all the answers but he had faith that gave meaning to many questions. He had a wide view of the human person, a sympathy for the pupils away from home, and a conviction that God’s love is bigger than any problem we have.

John Sullivan took really seriously the words ‘when I was sick, you came to visit me’.  Most of his spare time outside of prayer was spent on his rounds, sometimes cycling from Clane to Dublin to visit a sick Kildare man or woman.

This was before the days of A and E; days when people died at home often in great pain. John Sullivan was a living reminder that God had not forgotten the poorest of the poor.

They called him to pray for the sick person. He would do this, always inviting those in the house to pray with him.  He seemed to leave behind him a gift of peace and acceptance.

With few words he communicated the tenderness of God to people at a very needy time of their life, when they were seriously ill or close to death.

He was a priest mindful of God in the here and now.

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