Pioneer magazine

Blessed-Elect Father John Sullivan

april2017The Beatification ceremony for Father John Sullivan is in the offing.(Website editor: The date has since been confirmed - 13th May 2017 in St. Francis Xavier's Church on Gardiner Street, Dublin 1). This is a moment that has been eagerly anticipated by thousands of Irish people for well over a century. The celebration will be unique in that it will be the first beatification to take place in Ireland. In the past, beatifications always took place in Rome until a change was introduced by Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI. They now may be carried out in the home country of the person being raised to the honours of the Altar.

John Sullivan, a thirty-four-year-old barrister, entered the Catholic Church at the Jesuit Church, Farm Street, London in 1895. Five years later, on 7 September 1900, he entered the Society of Jesuit in the Irish midlands at Rahan, near Tullamore in Kings County (now Offaly). The Pioneer Association, as we know it, had only come into existence two years earlier, in 1898, but the Blessed-Elect appreciated its spiritual significance and became a member early in his Jesuit life. His Pioneer Pin features prominently among the artefacts of his life on display at Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare where he spent most his religious life, where he was known for his love of the poor and sick as well as gaining a well-founded reputation as a wonder-worker.

He was ordained on 28 July 1907 at Milltown Park, Dublin. Another Jesuit priest and Pioneer, Father Willie Doyle, was ordained on the same day. ‘Fr Willie’, as he was affectionately known, would die heroically in Belgium just ten years later in August 1917, ministering to the men during some of the fiercest fighting of World War I. His biography, by Alfred O’Rahilly, is widely considered one of the great twentieth century works of spirituality. At the time of his death, Fr Willie was one of the four Jesuits, including the founder, Fr James Cullen, who formed the then Central Council of the Association.

frjohnsullivan1The miracle on which the beatification of Fr Sullivan has been based was the healing of Delia Tanham, a lady from Dublin’s inner city, presumed to be dying of cancer. During the night of Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday 1955, prayers were addressed urgently through the intercession of Fr John Sullivan. In the morning she was perfectly healed. What astonished the doctors was the fact that there was not the slightest trace of the aggressive cancer which seemed to be threatening her life the previous night.

In our needs, we can all turn more confidently than ever to Fr John, now that his outstanding holiness is receiving such official approbation. 

Bernard J McGuckian SJ