John Sullivan, SJ, is remembered as a healing and holy priest from Ireland.
John Sullivan was born into a prominent family on May 8, 1861. His Protestant father, Edward, was a brilliant barrister who would later become Lord Chancellor of Ireland. His mother, Elizabeth Bailey, was a Catholic from a land-owning family. As was the custom of the time, the boys in the family were baptized in the father’s Protestant faith, and the girls were baptized as Catholics.
Also typical of the time for well-to-do families, in 1872 John was sent to Portora Royal School. The excellent student then attended Trinity College, Dublin, where he studied the Classics. He later studied law and for a time practiced as a barrister.
Edward Sullivan died suddenly in 1885. John’s share in his father’s inheritance gave him a measure of financial independence. John liked to dress well, and was considered at the time the best dressed man in Dublin. During this period he traveled Europe extensively, especially spending time taking walking tours of Macedonia, Greece, and Asia Minor. He spent several months in one of the Orthodox Monasteries on Mount Athos, even contemplating entering as a monk.
To the surprise of his family, John Sullivan was received into the Catholic Church in 1896. His decision to become Catholic led to a change in lifestyle, exemplified by John stripping his room of anything that appeared luxurious. Sullivan’s fancy clothes disappeared in favor of the most ordinary garb.
On September 7, 1900, at the age of 40, Sullivan entered the Society of Jesus. After seven years of study, he was ordained July 28, 1907. Next came an appointment to the teaching staff of Clongowes Wood College, where he spent most of the rest of his life.
Sullivan’s priestly life was one of prayer, personal sacrifice, care for his students, and, most especially, concern for the ill and the poor. Sullivan spent hours in prayer on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament or in his room praying the Rosary. Many more hours were spent walking the roads of Ireland to pray for the sick, especially those with incurable illnesses. From the 1920s until his death in 1933, there were many instances of spiritual and physical healing through the mediation of his prayers.
John Sullivan, SJ, died in 1933. His cause for beatification and canonization is under consideration, but many who knew him already consider Sullivan a saint.
The Life of Father John Sullivan
By Fergal McGrath, SJ
This brief biography includes quotes of John Sullivan, SJ.
The Boy from Eccles Street, Part 1
First part of a documentary about John Sullivan, SJ. After a young life of privilege, Sullivan converted to the Catholic faith and left all behind to live an ascetic religious life.
The Boy from Eccles Street, Part 2
Second part of a 14-minute documentary about the life of John Sullivan, SJ.
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