An Irish Jesuit priest has been moved a step closer to sainthood by Pope Francis after the Holy Father approved the decree that authenticated a miracle attributed him.
The miracle happened, says the Vatican, when in 1954 Delia Farnham from Belvedere Place, Dublin, was praying to Fr John Sullivan and the cancerous tumour on her neck miraculously disappeared.
Many miracles have been attributed to the Jesuit priest who was baptised into the Church of Ireland (his father’s tradition) and who became a Roman Catholic (his mother’s tradition) in the second half of his life.
Among other miracles attributed to Fr Sullivan was one involving the nephew of Michael Collins, also named Michael Collins, who had suffered paralysis as a child. Fr Sullivan reportedly prayed with the boy and also touched his damaged leg and the injury never recurred.
Born in 1861 into a wealthy Dublin family, he was the son of Edward Sullivan, a member of the Church of Ireland, a successful barrister and later the Lord Chancellor of Ireland.
His mother, Elizabeth Bailey, was a Roman Catholic from a prominent land-owning family in Passage West, Co Cork. He was raised as a Protestant but converted to Catholicism at the age of 35, being ordained a priest 11 years later.
He subsequently joined the teaching staff at the Jesuit school of Clongowes Wood where he remained for the rest of his life. Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern quoted Fr Sullivan in his farewell speech to the Dáil in 2008:
“Take life in instalments. This day now, at least let this be a good day. Be always beginning. Let the past go. Now let me do whatever I have the power to do.”
Jesuit priest Fr Conor Harper SJ, Vice Postulator for the cause of Fr John Sullivan, said the long awaited news would delight many of the friends of John Sullivan throughout the world but especially in Ireland: “What is remarkable about Fr John Sullivan is the manner in which he is remembered and revered in the two Christian traditions that were so dear to him, the Roman Catholic and the Protestant.
“Our Church of Ireland friends join us in celebration.”
The Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin also warmly welcomed the news of the Pope’s approval and said that John Sullivan was marked in a special way by a great care for the sick: “Reading his biographies is like reading a directory of the hospitals and the homes for the sick in the Dublin of his days.
“There was nothing that would hold him back from visiting someone who was sick and who had asked for his prayers.
“In his years in Clongowes College he would travel by bicycle or on foot when he heard the news of someone who was ill.
“He was not a medical expert or a faith healer, but a man who through his own prayer and personal holiness was able to transmit to those he encountered something of the healing power and the Good News of Jesus Christ.”
Church of Ireland Archbishop Michael Jackson said: “The holiness of the life of John Sullivan SJ has touched and inspired countless people in Ireland and internationally.
“We in the Church of Ireland give thanks for the public recognition of holiness, humility and service of humanity on the part of John Sullivan. “We rejoice in the fact that, as well as living a life that honoured God and the Jesuit Order, he spent half of his life as a member of the Church of Ireland.
“The recognition of his holiness has a strong ecumenical feel to it as he never rejected the influence of the Anglican tradition on his spiritual flourishing. Members of Portora Royal School, where John Sullivan was educated, will also rejoice on this day.”
Fr John Sullivan was born in 1861 and entered the Jesuit Order in 1900. He died on 19 February 1933.