It is with great joy I learned that Pope Francis has approved the beatification of Venerable John Sullivan. This is truly great news for the Jesuit family, for the Kildare & Leighlin Diocesan family, particularly the parishes in the vicinity of Clongowes Wood College and the many thousands of lay faithful in Ireland and beyond who have great faith in the healing powers of this Jesuit priest. Stories abound of Fr. John Sullivan traversing huge journeys, hitching a lift, going by bicycle or travelling by foot to attend the sick and dying in the locality around Clongowes Wood College in the parish of Clane. He was known for his own sense of deep personal prayer which led to his being the instrument of healing and mercy for so many. I know both the students, past and present as well as the staff of Clongowes hold John Sullivan in revered affection.
I fondly recall my celebrating the Annual John Sullivan Mass in Clongowes last year. It is held each year, proximate to the date of his birth – May 8th. In the homily that afternoon I wondered what might be the message of John Sullivan for the Ireland of today? I referred to the tragic incident involving his brother Robert. Fergal McGrath, Sullivan’s great biographer wrote in minute detail. On October 16th, 1877 Robert at the age of twenty-four, while the family were holidaying in Killiney, went out sailing in Dublin Bay with two younger friends, John and Constance Exham.
McGrath tells us “they brought a gun to amuse themselves by shooting at seagulls, and Robert had on a heavy cartridge-belt”. The boat capsized, Robert gave one of the oars to Constance so that she might be saved; she was dead by the time rescuers reached the site. John Exham survived, but Robert Sullivan sadly sank into the water, weighed down by the cartridge belt – his body was never found, despite the family employing the services of a diver to search. I wondered then, and repeat today, might John Sullivan be a comfort to the many families who have lost loved ones in death? Might John Sullivan, who must have known the pain of losing a brother in the prime of his youth and never finding a body to bury, offer some comfort to heartbroken parents and siblings today?
I very much look forward to celebrating this announcement by Pope Francis of Venerable John Sullivan becoming Blessed at the Annual Mass of Thanksgiving in Clongowes Wood College on Sunday 8 May at 3pm. I thank Cait Cullen and her team who have faithfully kept the flame of Venerable, soon to be Blessed, John Sullivan, lit all these years. The Mass will include the anointing of the sick and the Blessing with the Cross of John Sullivan. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, it is very interesting to see someone recognized in our church, for whom devotion to his Cross is central to the promotion of his cause. Regarding the mercy of God, John Sullivan said: “God always leaves the door unlatched”. It’s up to us to walk through that door. For many people the cross represents suffering and sickness in their lives; my prayer is that this announcement by Pope Francis will bring them great hope and encouragement, no matter what cross they carry.