John Sullivan SJ- the Farm St connection

Felicity Anne Croft, Fr Dominic and Br James at the shrine of John Sullivan SJ
Felicity Anne Croft, Fr Dominic and Br James at the shrine of John Sullivan SJ

Report by Dominic Robinson SJ

It was a wonderful joy and privilege to be at St Francis Xavier, Gardiner St, the Jesuit  church in the centre of Dublin last Saturday to see Fr John Sullivan  SJ, who died in 1933, declared ‘blessed’ by Pope Francis.  I was there representing Farm Street along with Br James Hodkinson SJ of the Mount Street Jesuit Community and Miss Felicity Ann Croft from the Parish.  The term ‘blessed’ means that a man or woman is considered to be truly holy and worthy of veneration at a local level.

Blessed John Sullivan, however, already has a much wider reach than Dublin or Ireland or the Catholic Church.  Because it was at Farm Street that in 1896 Fr John Gavin SJ received Blessed John into the Roman Catholic Church.  John Sullivan had been a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn and, during his time in London, had a conversion experience.  This conversion, however, should not be regarded as turning his back on his Anglican roots, where he had learnt his Christian faith.  Rather it was a turning his back on what was a brilliant legal career and London social life to a profound commitment to Gospel values, especially to a humble service of the sick and poor.  In 1900 John Sullivan entered the Irish Jesuit novitiate and spent the rest of his life committed to an untiring attention to the sick and the poor, for most of the time at Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare.  So it was in an unprecedented ecumenical gesture that the request of Pope Francis to declare John Sullivan blessed was made jointly by the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin. 

The principal celebrant at the Beatification Mass, representing Pope Francis, was Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.  In his homily Cardinal Amato spoke of Fr John’s example of practising with perfection the ‘evangelical virtues’, that is of the values of the Gospel, through the particular choice of life he made as a professed priest in a religious order, that was for him the Jesuits.  The Cardinal stressed how this was for him a life of true humility, not seeking the limelight but living out the Gospel in simple ways and always seeking out those who were weak and lonely, be it in Clongowes Wood College itself or the local area.  As such Blessed John is an example to all of us of how we can live out the Gospel more closely whatever we do, wherever we live. 
After the Ceremony itself the vast congregation, made up mainly of local people, many of whom later were recounting how a relative or friend had known Fr John himself in his lifetime or had prayed to him for favours, prayed at Blessed John’s tomb in the church and a relic of Blessed John’s hair, which was kept by his barber, Charlie Barrett, was brought to the altar and venerated.

Then a Reception was held at Croke Park Gaelic Football Stadium at which Fr Leonard Moloney SJ, the Superior of the Jesuits in Ireland, thanked all those who had been involved over so many years in promoting the cause for the Beatification of Fr John Sullivan.  In the speeches Fr Leonard also welcomed Miss Croft, Br James and me as the Farm Street and Jesuits in Britain link and the family descendants of Blessed John, all of whom are living in London and whom it was a great pleasure and privilege to meet. 

Please do visit the noticeboard in the Calvary Chapel at the back of Farm Street Church for more information on Blessed John Sullivan and to pray through his intercession for favours. 

Blessed John Sullivan, pray for us.  Dominic Robinson SJ

Read a full report of the beatification ceremony