Irish Jesuit, Protestant gentleman-turned-Catholic healer, to be beatified

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Irish Jesuit Communications

By Susan Gately

(CNS) — When Jesuit Father John Sullivan is beatified May 13, two archbishops
— one Catholic and one Anglican — will present the solemn petition asking that
the priest be declared “a blessed.”

is unusual, but Father Sullivan’s life straddled two centuries, two traditions
and two cultures.

in 1861, one of five children, John Sullivan grew up in privileged conditions
in Ireland and Britain. He was raised in the Protestant tradition of his
father, Sir Edward Sullivan, who rose to be lord chancellor of Ireland. His
mother, Elizabeth, was a devout Catholic.

Sullivan later wrote of “a blessed childhood in a happy, loving home”
although, at age 16, he suffered the loss of an older brother through drowning.
In Trinity College Dublin, he excelled in his studies of the classics. He was
an avid player of tennis and the card game whist and was dubbed “the best-dressed
man in Dublin.” Society mothers viewed him as a major trophy in the
matrimonial mart.

1885, the year of his father’s death, Sullivan went to London to study law. He
traveled extensively, and even considered becoming a monk at one of the Orthodox
monasteries on Mount Athos in Greece. A shy, remote figure, he was nonetheless
popular and known for his kindness. His search for God is fictionally recreated
in Ethel Mannin’s book “Late Have I Loved Thee.” In
1895, he traveled as part of a British government delegation to investigate a
massacre in Adana, Turkey. A year later, at 35, he became a

reception into the Catholic Church marked a complete break with the life he had
lived. Returning to his affluent home in Dublin, he
stripped his room down to the floor boards and spent much time visiting the
poor and dying. Four years later, he entered the Jesuits.

the time of his ordination in 1907, reports of miraculous healings began. Cures
for meningitis, St. Vitus Dance, breast cancer, tuberculosis, pernicious
vomiting, infantile paralysis and many other illnesses were all attributed to
his prayers during his lifetime. He willingly cycled long distances to spend
hours praying at a patient’s bedside while working as a teacher in Clongowes
Wood School in County Kildare, where the boys attributed his success more to
his prayers than his teaching powers.

his death in 1933, his graveside in Clongowes became a place of pilgrimage. The
healings continued.

Father Conor Harper, vice postulator of the Jesuit’s sainthood cause, said hundreds
of miracles have been attributed to his intercession, many within living memory.

Morton, former headmaster of the Enniskillen school where Father Sullivan was
educated, says Portora school is “proud of being the only Protestant
school in the history of Ireland that can boast of having a Catholic saint.”

for Father Harper, Father Sullivan’s real greatness is that “he is a priest
of the poor and the sick — that is why he is known.”

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