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Hearing the message of Venerable John Sullivan SJ

Bishop Denis Nulty of Kildare & Leighlin diocese was the principal celebrant at the annual anniversary Mass in thanksgiving for the life and work of the Servant of God, Venerable Fr John Sullivan SJ, in Clongowes on Sunday 10 May. A flag, specially commissioned by Clane Community Council, flew in the college grounds and at the local community centre for the celebration on the day. In his homily for the Mass, Bishop Nulty reflected on three key points; the Venerability of Fr John, his birthday, and how his message is relevant for the Ireland of 2015.

Bishop Nulty said that the declaration of Fr John as Venerable means that “the Church as Institution and as the Body of Christ recognises that he lived a life of heroic virtue” and that he could now be publicly venerated. He remarked that it was no accident that John Sullivan was declared Venerable, rather it is “the fruit of years of all your prayers, devotion and affection” for him. He made reference to Fr John’s journey of faith, a “journey of doing what was acceptable to God” and suggested that his Venerability has its roots in the attention which he paid to the sick and the suffering.

He made reference in particular to the staggering number of people who, on hearing he was celebrating the Mass, told him their story of Fr John. “One person told me her family were personally acquainted with a woman from near the college whose incurable illness was healed through the intervention of Fr. John Sullivan; another whose grandmother came from Ballinagappa, Clane knew that her arthritic grandmother’s mother was attended to by Fr. John, and the family continued to visit his grave, while it was here in Clongowes.”

He mentioned that one of the moments of Christian Baptism is the tracing of the sign of the Cross on the forehead of the newborn and referred to how Fr John asked in his novitiate days “that the Cross he be allowed to keep was the one that belonged to his mother, a brass one, nine inches high – today two Crosses are venerated both in Gardiner Street and here in Clongowes, one of the two being that brass one that belonged to his mother and which he held as he was dying; the second one was placed in his hands immediately after his death.”

The Bishop then proposed to the congregation what he thought might be Fr John Sullivan’s message for the Ireland of 2015. He asked if Venerable John Sullivan might be a comfort for the families of missing persons and offer “comfort to heartbroken parents and siblings”; or if he could “reawaken our devotion and prayer of the Stations of the Cross”. He further pondered if he might offer a message to us as we prepare for the ‘Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy’ recently announced by Pope Francis, referring to the powerful words Fr John used regarding the mercy of God: “God always leaves the door unlatched”. And finally, Bishop Nulty wondered, might his advice or counsel offer the greatest maturity young people particularly need to learn in life: “you win nothing unless you know how to lose”. Bishop Nulty concluded his reflection on Fr John with the affirming wish ”May his message be heard with clarity and compassion in the Ireland of 2015 and beyond.”

On Sunday 14 June at 3.30pm a Service of Thanksgiving will take place for Venerable John Sullivan SJ in Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. The presider at the Evensong service will be Archbishop Michael Jackson, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin will also be in attendance.

Click here to read the homily of Bishop Denis Nulty at the Venerable Fr John Sullivan Anniversary Mass.