Blessed John Sullivan, SJ

Born: May 8, 1861
Died: February 19, 1933

Servant of God in September 1960
Venerable November 2014
Beatified 13 May 2017

John Sullivan was born in Dublin, Ireland. His father, Edward Sullivan was Ireland’s Lord Chancellor. Young John was brought up in his father’s Protestant faith. His mother, Elizabeth

Baily, was a Catholic and John always attributed his conversion to her incessant prayers. As a youth John studied for six years at the Portora Royal School at Enniskillen in 1873. After his matriculation in Dublin’s Trinity College in 1879 and earned a degree in Classics in 1883, John continued his law studies in Trinity but moved to Lincoln’s Inn, London and graduated as a barrister in 1888.

During his professional years he practiced law in London and was able to travel extensively. He loved Greece and it was during his stay at the monastery on Mount Athos there that he decided to adopt his mother’s religion and was received into the Catholic Church on December 21, 1896 by the Jesuits at Farm Street, London. John adopted an entirely new way of life after his conversion, dress simply and live poorly instead of a dapper young lawyer he once was. He gave away unnecessary furniture in his room and much of his wardrobe and spent his time visiting the sick and orphans taking them gifts and helping many charities and many converts were the recipients of his benefactions.

It was during this period that John thought of becoming a priest. Initially he was inclined to be a Franciscan but after being convinced by acquaintances that he was meant to be a Jesuit, he entered the Society in Ireland and began his novitiate at Tullabeg on Sep 7, 1900 at age thirty nine. After his simple vows on Sep 8, 1902, he went on to do two years philosophy at Stonyhurst, England before returning to Milltown Park in Dublin in 1904 to 1907 for his theology. Although He was older and more experienced than the other younger Jesuits, John was known for his unpretentiousness and often made others more important than himself.

While doing theology, John began visiting a nearby hospice for the dying and a hospital for the incurables and this apostolate to the suffering remained one of his chief concerns during his priestly life. After his ordination at Milltown Park on July 28, 1907 he was sent to Clongowes Wood School, where he spent most of his priestly life. He taught young boys in Latin and Greek and became the confessor and spiritual director to the young men who found him captivating. His influence was equally felt outside the academic community for he was constantly walking or cycling on his bicycle to visit the sick and needy regardless of the distance and weather. His prayers and blessings were deemed more helpful than the physician’s visit.

Fr Sullivan’s clothes were patched beyond description and his shoes always in need of repair but he was always clean. He went about the cold without gloves and overshoes, ate little and rarely ate meat. He slept a few hours at night and spent most of his time before the Blessed Sacrament. Though as austere as he was toward himself, he was compassionate, caring and understanding to others. He was so selfless that he lived to bring Christ’s consolation and love to others.

In 1919, Fr Sullivan was appointed rector of the juniorate and retreat house of about twenty-four young Jesuits who had just finished their novitiate at Rathfarnham Castle attending to their spiritual growth. He returned to Clongowes in 1924 to take up where he left off.

On February 4, 1933, Fr Sullivan developed a swelling on his elbow and advised to have it lanced by the physician. During his time in the infirmary the nurse-in-charge told how Fr Sullivan spent his time in prayer with his gaze always fixed on the crucifix. On Feb 17 he suffered a sudden attack of severe pain in his abdomen and suspecting that he had an obstruction he was sent to Dublin Hospital for an operation. It was discovered that a mesenteric thrombosis was causing gangrene in a large section of the small intestine. Although the operation relieved him of much of his pain, it could note save his life. He spent the next two days in prayer and then on February 19, 1933, at 11.00 pm, the seventy-two-year-old Fr Sullivan peacefully offered his suffering and life to his Lord.

The funeral was attended by all his students and people who loved him. They touched their rosaries to his casket and took dirt from his grave. The faithful in Dublin still ask him to intercede to God for them. Fr Sullivan’s cause is presently under consideration in Rome.