A huge number of people from around the country gathered again to honour Blessed John Sullivan at the annual Blessed John Sullivan SJ Mass in Clongowes on Sunday 12 May 2019. The Jesuit college in Clane, Co Kildare is where Fr John spent twenty-one years of his priestly life as a teaching priest. It was there that he was first laid to rest before his remains were resumed in 1960, and moved to Gardiner St Church in Dublin, as part of the process for his canonisation.
Commenting on the large attendance Bishop Denis Nulty of Kildare and Leighlin, noted, “While we celebrate our Mass here in the Boys Chapel, I am conscious there are many more in the Peoples Church and the Concourse outside who join us through the facility and convenience of the large screens. All of you are most welcome. You are all here, because somehow, some way, sometime Blessed John Sullivan touched and impacted your lives, and just as he had an association with Clongowes for forty-eight years, so you proudly have some association with him that brings you here today.”
Bishop Nulty, who was also the homilist at the Mass, welcomed the visiting priests in attendance, on behalf of Conor Harper SJ (Vice-postulator for the canonisation cause of Fr John) and Michael McGuckian SJ, of the Clongowes Jesuit Community. He also thanked Cáit Cullen and her team who have worked tirelessly in Clane promoting Fr John and his reputation for prayerful, healing intercession for sick and solidarity with the poor.
The Mass took place on the feast of the Good Shepherd Sunday, which is also Vocations Sunday and the Bishop referenced the special nature of Fr John’s vocation. He noted that John spent the first half of his life as a member of the Chruch of Ireland, his father’s denomination, before becoming a Catholic like his mother. Referencing this Bishop Nulty said, “Blessed John Sullivan’s call was unique. Nurtured in the Anglican tradition, he felt drawn to our Catholic faith because of the example of his mother and her prayers, and the many religious he met on his legal journeys around Ireland.”
In his homily (click here to read in full) the Bishop continued the theme of Fr John’s vocation noting that while John was the “the successful lawyer, a man of the world and indeed well-travelled, he always had that deep desire to dedicate himself to a more profound holiness.. In his legal work around Ireland, among the convents he visited were the Poor Clare’s in Carlow who had just arrived from Manchester in 1893. When they moved to their new convent in 1900 from their early house at Graigue Bridge, John was then very familiar with them and came down to Carlow for the occasion. He served four farewell Masses there, presenting them with a gold ciborium and a Sacristans Manual. Apparently, the sacristan of the day had reproached John Sullivan for some minor misdemeanour, maybe he missed ringing the bell at the proper time, but you couldn’t but feel here was John Sullivan getting his own back!”
But as always, there were others who had an influence on Fr John’s vocation, and Bishop Nulty, quoting from Fergal McGrathSJ’s book on the life of Fr John said, that the author, “and many others would suggest it was the prayers of his mother which ultimately honed his conversion to Catholicism and his vocation to priesthood: “it is quite certain, however, that the prayers and example of his mother played a powerful part in his conversion”.
In a very lively homily that spoke warmly to the those gathered Bishop Denis recalled his mother and his vocation. “I vividly recall my mother on that same kitchen table sewing on ‘name tags’ meticulously onto every bit of clothing before I went off to the seminary, that’s now thirty-eight years ago! ”
That ‘kitehen table’ was also referenced by Bishop Denis regarding how Jesus, the Good Shepherd knows or recognises his own sheep. He noted that in modern days we have many sophisticated types of recogntion. “Facial recognition technology; voice recognition technology; touch recognition technology is a far remove from the days we simply put our names on our copy books. I remember those days well. ‘Denis Nulty, Slane, County Meath, Ireland, Europe, The World, The Universe’. Yes, I wrote it on everything even the kitchen table!”
In his closing remarks, the Bishop noted that the Cross of Blessed John to be that instrument that attracts so many still to his healing and intercession. “I think of the couple who wrote to me from a neighbouring parish to here late last year and the issues around their pregnancy. Their son was later baptised here in Clongowes. They fully attribute the success of that pregnancy, against all medical odds, and the health of their little son today to Blessed John Sullivan’s intercession. He continues to heal, just as the Shepherd continues to call. May we heed both this day.”