Pope Francis has approved a decree acknowledging the heroic virtues of Fr John Sullivan SJ, meaning that Fr Sullivan’s life and virtues are worthy of imitation by the faithful. From this point, he is known as Venerable John Sullivan.
Fr Sullivan lived a holy life of prayer, humility, service and asceticism. He was born into considerable wealth and privilege, and after some years of travel and study became a barrister. His father was the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and he was brought up an Anglican, although his mother was a Catholic. He converted to Catholicism at the age of 35 and entered the Jesuits 4 years later. He was ordained on July 28, 1907 in the same ceremony as Fr Doyle. Fr Sullivan was 46, Fr Doyle was 34.
Fr Sullivan spent most of his life in Clongowes, a Jesuit school not too far from Dublin where Fr Doyle had also spent some time prior to his ordination. He was known for his gentle kindness towards the boys there. He lived an ascetic life, eating very little. Like Fr Doyle, he was no stranger to physical mortification, often spending entire nights in prayer, or sleeping on the floor or performing other physical acts of penance. And, in common with Fr Doyle, there is no evidence that these penances ever interfered with his work. Both priests kept them hidden, and neither ever encouraged others to follow in their own footsteps.
It seems that Fr Sullivan had great regard for Fr Doyle; after his death some of Fr Doyle’s sayings were found transcribed in Fr Sullivan’s writings amongst his private papers.
While there are some similarities between the two contemporary Jesuits, there are also some differences. Two in particular spring to mind. The first is that Fr Sullivan was given the grace of physical healing. He would regularly travel – on bike or by foot – for miles to visit the sick and dying in the countryside around Clongowes.
There are many instances of healings recorded through Fr Sullivan’s intercession, even during his own lifetime. These graces of healing have continued after his death.
The second great difference is that we know relatively little about his interior life. What we know comes from eye witness accounts. If he ever wrote detailed notes about himself, they no longer exist. Perhaps this was Professor Alfred O’Rahilly’s fault! After he published so many extracts from Fr Doyle’s private notes, it is possible that other priests ensured that their own diaries were destroyed, although given Fr Sullivan’s profound humility it is likely that he never thought anyone would be interested in his interior life anyway.
The news that Fr John Sullivan has been declared Venerable is great news for the Church in Ireland, which badly needs to recognise its saints. Hopefully his beatification will follow soon.
Some sayings from Venerable Fr John Sullivan:
Take life in instalments, this day now. At least let this be a good day. Be always beginning. Let the past go. The saints were always beginning. That is how they became saints.
We shall acquire personal love of our Lord by going against our own self-love, rooting it out of our hearts. The two cannot exist together. God is jealous of our love. Anything that denies self is an act of love.
The short road to perfection is to keep in close tough with Jesus. “…virtue went out from Him, and healed all” (Luke 6:19). This happens each morning at Mass. The sick and blind had Him only for a while, whereas we have Him always.
To say “Deo Gratias” in all things is to be a saint.
Have great devotion to the Rosary, teach it to the children. It is the greatest prayer, as it contains the three greatest prayers of the Church.
The official website for the beatification of Venerable John Sullivan can be found here: http://frjohnsullivan.ie/