Trinity honours Fr John Sullivan SJ

A new portrait of Blessed John Sullivan SJ was unveiled in the Robert Emmet Theater of the Trinity College Dublin, on Wednesday 27 March 2019, 7 pm. The painting was commissioned by the college. It is the first time a Trinity graduate has been honoured in this way. The painting by artist William Nathans (in the photo, on the left) depicts Fr John praying the rosary, a prayer to which he had great devotion. It will be hung in the Oratory.

Fr Conor Harper SJ, vice-postulator for the canonisation cause of Blessed John, was the guest speaker. He thanked Trinity Chaplains Fr Peter Sexton SJ and Fr. Alan O’Sullivan OP for initiating this honour for Fr John, and the Provost of Trinity, Patrick Prendergast, for endorsing it. “Among the many achievements across the history of centuries,” said Conor, “Trinity can now add a special distinction and can now honour one of its past graduates who, it has been acknowledged, achieved a distinction in holiness!”

Conor also gave a brief outline of the life of Fr Sullivan. He told those present that John Sullivan, son of the then Lord Chancellor of Ireland Sir Edward and Lady Sullivan, a past pupil of Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, grew up in the Church of Ireland and was a graduate and gold medallist in Classics in Trinity College (1879-1885). While studying Law in London subsequently he became Roman Catholic and later joined the Jesuits. In his ministry after ordination, he became known and revered for his care of the sick and poor for many years in the environs of Clongowes Wood in Clane, Co. Kildare, and died on 19th February 1933.

He was beatified in Gardiner St Church in Dublin in May 2017. In an unprecedented ecumenical gesture, the formal request for beatification to the representative of Pope Francis at the ceremony was made together by the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, and the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Michael Jackson, reflecting the fact that Fr John was Anglican for the first half of his life and Roman Catholic for the second.

Conor also focused on the ecumenical dimension of Fr John’s life, noting that a remarkable feature in recent years has been the most welcome and enthusiastic support of the Church of Ireland (Anglican tradition) in the various ceremonies honouring this extraordinary Jesuit.

“One of Fr John’s great admirers was the late Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. George Otto Simms,” Conor noted. He added: “When asked why he showed such warm enthusiasm for the notion that John Sullivan should be honoured by the Church of Rome, he responded that we must never forget that John was a member of the Church of Ireland into mature adulthood. By then his character would have been well-formed. So, his holiness he would have learnt in the Anglican tradition and the Roman Catholic Church reaped the fruits of that solid foundation!”

Conor also singled out the present Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Michael Jackson, noting that among the eminent figures from the Church of Ireland who have preached at various  ceremonies commemorating Fr John, Archbishop Michael Jackson “has always been a stalwart and constant supporter of the cause.”

Concluding the evening, Fr Peter and Fr Alan invited all present to a reception after the unveiling, in the Senior Common Room.

Blessed John Sullivan SJ declared:

Servant of God – September 1960
Venerable – November 2104
Beatified – 13 May 2107
Feast Day – 8 May

This article was first published on the website of Jesuits in Ireland.