The beatification of Fr John Sullivan

A drawing of Father John Sullivan
A drawing of Father John Sullivan

The beatification ceremony of Blessed John Sullivan was held in Gardiner Street Church, Dublin (near O’Connell Street), on May 13.

When I arrived at the St Francis Xavier Church, in good time, to attend the ceremony, I was politely told by the private security people at the entrance that the church was full and I couldn’t enter.

However, I was informed that I could go to a marquee tent at the back of the church There was a lone Jesuit Father standing on the Street nearby, so I appealed to him to help me to enter the church.

He said that couldn’t help as he was designated to accompany an expected and important guest (which I obviously wasn’t).

I told Blessed John Sullivan, in no uncertain terms, what I thought of him. I went around to the marquee tent and for some unexplained reason I was given the best place at the front row. (I apologise to Father John for doubting his integrity).

It was a beautiful ecumenical ceremony, involving Protestant and Catholic clergy.

There was one fly in the ointment. There was no, a far as I am aware, Orthodox representation at the ceremony; there should have been; before taking the path towards Catholic priesthood, John Sullivan had apparently applied to an Orthodox monastery at Mount Athos (in Greece) to become an Orthodox monk. He was turned down.

John Sullivan received his secondary education at Portora Royal School in Enniskillen; he entered Portora in 1873 and remained for six years; his three brothers were also educated at Portora.

According to Fergal McGrath S.J., in his biography of John Sullivan, the latter was a man of sincere loyalties, and, in after life, he always spoke of his old school with esteem and affection; there were many reasons for this attachment to Portora.

The boys enjoyed much liberty in the midst of beautiful scenery. Especially attractive and never to be forgotten were the various excursions on the waters of Lough Erne.

He received a solid grounding in the classics at Portora at which he excelled and to which he was much attached throughout his life. He apparently had a good sense of humour.

For instance when teaching Latin to boys, at Clongowes Wood College, in Kildare, a former pupil, James Fitzgerald, recalled how, in a not very responsive class, he was explaining that some Latin verbs are followed by the Dative of advantage. He gave as an example “nubo”, I marry. Then , possibly to brighten up a dull subject, he added: “But of course it might be the Dative of disadvantage.”

On another occasion when giving a retreat about Creation, Father Sullivan asked his hearers to consider how each one of us is the work of God. He added that, when we consider our defects, “you and I must thank God for his bad taste, and carry on”.

One of the sisters who attended John Sullivan in St Vincent’s in Dublin, in his last two days in February 1933, recalled, “I think that what most struck me and those who were privileged to nurse Father John Sullivan during his last illness was his perfect conformity to God’s will and his marvellous patience.” and “His recollection and spirit of prayer were striking, so that on entering his room one felt that he dwelt always in the conscious presence of God.”

Micheal O’Cathail, Fermanagh