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Bishop says Fr John Sullivan has message for today

By Sarah Mac Donald - 21 May, 2015

Bishop Denis Nulty. Photo: Courtesy iCatholic

Bishop Denis Nulty. Photo: Courtesy iCatholic

The Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin has suggested that Venerable John Sullivan, the Irish Jesuit who took the first step towards sainthood last December, might be a source of comfort for those Irish families who are still searching for missing loved ones.

Bishop Denis Nulty was the principal celebrant at the annual anniversary Mass in thanksgiving for the life and work of the Servant of God, Venerable Fr John Sullivan SJ, in Clongowes on Sunday 10 May.

In his homily, Bishop Nulty reflected on three key points: the Venerability of Fr John Sullivan, his birthday, and how his message is relevant for the Ireland in 2015.

On his relevance, Bishop Nulty asked if Fr Sullivan might today be a comfort to the Jacob family in their search for Deirdre; to the Deely family in their search for Trevor; to the Dollard family in their search for Jo Jo and the many more families who miss their loved ones.

Recalling how as a schoolboy John Sullivan had lost a brother in a tragic boating accident, Dr Nulty asked if having known the pain of losing a brother and never having a body to bury, that this might offer “some little crumb of comfort” to those heartbroken parents and siblings of the missing.

“Might Venerable John Sullivan reawaken our devotion and prayer of ‘the Stations of the Cross’ as those families especially and all of us struggle to make sense of pain and suffering in our lives,” he asked.

The Bishop continued, “Might Venerable John Sullivan offer a message to us as we make remote preparations following the recent announcement by Pope Francis of the ‘Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy’ in our churches, parishes & school communities later this year.”

Dr Nulty referred to the “powerful” words John Sullivan used regarding the mercy of God – “God always leaves the door unlatched”.

And finally, Bishop Nulty wondered, might his advice or counsel offer the greatest maturity young people particularly need to learn in life: “you win nothing unless you know how to lose”.

Bishop Nulty concluded his reflection on Fr John with the affirming wish, “May his message be heard with clarity and compassion in the Ireland of 2015 and beyond.”

He said the declaration of Fr John as Venerable means that “the Church as Institution and as the Body of Christ recognises that he lived a life of heroic virtue” and that he could now be publicly venerated.

It was no accident that John Sullivan was declared Venerable, the bishop said and added that rather it is “the fruit of years of all your prayers, devotion and affection” for him.

He made reference to Fr John’s journey of faith, a “journey of doing what was acceptable to God” and suggested that his Venerability has its roots in the attention which he paid to the sick and the suffering.

Bishop Nulty also noted the staggering number of people who, on hearing he was celebrating the Mass, told him their story of Fr John.

“One person told me her family were personally acquainted with a woman from near the college whose incurable illness was healed through the intervention of Fr John Sullivan; another whose grandmother came from Ballinagappa, Clane knew that her arthritic grandmother’s mother was attended to by Fr John, and the family continued to visit his grave, while it was here in Clongowes.”

He mentioned that one of the moments of Christian baptism is the tracing of the sign of the Cross on the forehead of the new born and referred to how Fr John asked in his novitiate days “that the Cross he be allowed to keep was the one that belonged to his mother, a brass one, nine inches high – today two Crosses are venerated both in Gardiner Street and here in Clongowes, one of the two being that brass one that belonged to his mother and which he held as he was dying; the second one was placed in his hands immediately after his death.”

Bishop Nulty then proposed to the congregation what he thought might be Fr John Sullivan’s message for the Ireland of 2015.

On Sunday 14 June at 3.30pm a Service of Thanksgiving will take place for Venerable John Sullivan SJ in Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin.

The presider at the Evensong service will be Archbishop Michael Jackson, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin will also be in attendance.

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