Catholic, Anglican leaders welcome Irish priest's step toward sainthood

Jesuit Father John Sullivan is seen in this drawing by Irish portrait artist Sean O'Sullivan. (CNS photo/courtesy Irish Jesuit Communications)

An Irish priest approved for the next step to sainthood was described as a holy man with special powers of healing.

Senior figures in the Irish Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland welcomed Pope Francis signing a decree recognizing a miracle attributed to Jesuit Father John Sullivan, clearing the way for his beatification. Father Sullivan was raised as an Anglican.


"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," said Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. The archbishop said the Jesuit's Anglican heritage had "enriched" his faith.

The son of a Protestant Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Sir Edward Sullivan, Father Sullivan was baptized into the Church of Ireland tradition of his father and educated at the Protestant Portora Royal School in County Fermanagh and Trinity College Dublin. 

Jesuit Father Barney McGuckian said Father Sullivan's beatification would be a "a very ecumenical event," and he paid tribute to Portora college as "the first Irish Protestant school to produce a Catholic saint." 

In 1896 at the age of 35, Father Sullivan was received into the Catholic Church, the tradition of his mother, at the Jesuit church on Farm Street, London. He joined the Jesuits in 1900 and was ordained in 1907. 

Word of his holy and healing ways spread around Ireland, and to this day thousands of devotees visit his tomb in the Jesuit Gardiner Street church each year, praying for his help and intercession. 

Many miracles have been attributed to him. Father McGuckian told CNS that one alleged miracle relates to the cure of a paralyzed 3-year-old.

The miracle approved by the pope was the 1954 healing of a cancerous tumor on the neck of Delia Farnham of Dublin.

Father McGuckian told CNS that Father Sullivan had the gift of prophecy and was renowned for praying, fasting, visiting the sick and the poor. 

"One of the difficulties about him was that he didn't write much," he explained and said there were very few extant letters to or from him as he did not keep correspondence. 

Jesuit Father Conor Harper, vice postulator of Father Sullivan's sainthood cause, said what is remarkable about him was the way he is "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."

Welcoming the announcement, Anglican Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin and Glendalough said, "We rejoice in the fact that, as well as living a life that honored God and the Jesuit order, he spent half of his life as a member of the Church of Ireland."

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