John Sullivan was born in 1861 in Dublin to a Protestant father and a Catholic mother. He was educated in Protestantism but became a Catholic in 1896. His father, future Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Sir Edward Sullivan was of the Church of Ireland tradition, while his mother, Lady Bessie Josephine Sullivan, was a Roman Catholic. According to the custom of the time, males received their father’s religion and females their mother’s, so John was baptised into the Protestant Church of Ireland on 15 June 1861 in the Christian tradition of his father.
In 1873, John followed in his siblings’ footsteps and attended Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland; after Portora, he entered the Trinity College in Dublin, where he excelled in his studies to such an extent that in 1885 he was awarded the Gold Medal in Classical Studies. He later studied law. At that time his father, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland Sir Edward Sullivan, died suddenly. The shock had a devastating effect on the young student: John left Ireland and continued his law studies in London, where he was appointed barrister in 1888.
Thanks to the inheritance he received, he was able to lead a very wealthy life, being noted for his fashionable clothes and elegant figure. He visited Europe extensively and was a keen cyclist. He then settled for a time in the Orthodox monastery on Mount Athos in Greece and became close friend with the monks. In December 1896, at the age of 35, he made an important decision: he was received into the Roman Catholic Church at the Jesuit church in London. He considered this step, in the same way as St Augustine and St Monica, to be the merit of the prayers of his deeply Catholic mother.
In September 1900 John Sullivan decided to enter the Society of Jesus and was ordained a priest on 28 July 1907. He was assigned to the teaching staff of Clongowed Wood College in Kildare, where he spent most of his life as a Jesuit. He also taught his young Jesuit brethren from 1919 to 1924. In addition, he also carried out a fruitful apostolate of preaching and assisting people in various difficulties. Many people with spiritual needs or in need of physical healing came to Father John asking for his prayers. The power of God seemed to work through him and many were healed. Even today, the sick in and around Dublin ask to be blessed with his crucifix, a symbol of healing and hope.
Fr John Sullivan died at St Vincent’s Health Residence in Dublin, a short distance from his father’s home, on 19 February 1933. He was beatified by Pope Francis on 13 May 2017. Father John Sullivan’s sanctity is recognised equally by Catholics and Anglicans.
Sources: Archives of the General Postulation of the Society of Jesus; Fr Marc Lindeijer, SJ; L’Osservatore Romano