First ever beatification in Ireland to take place next month

Dublin man, raised and educated Protestant, to be declared ‘blessed’ by Vatican

The late Fr John Sullivan: at age 35 he converted to Catholicism, and was ordained a Jesuit priest 11 years later

The late Fr John Sullivan: at age 35 he converted to Catholicism, and was ordained a Jesuit priest 11 years later


The late Jesuit priest Fr John Sullivan, who was raised Protestant, is to be declared “blessed” at a ceremony which will be attended by both the Church of Ireland and Catholic Archbishops of Dublin.

In a year which also marks the Reformation’s 500th anniversary, it is the first ever beatification in Ireland – a major step on the path to sainthood – and will also involve Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

The event will take place on May 13th at the Jesuit’s St Francis Xavier Church on Dublin’s Gardiner Street, a short distance from Eccles Street where Fr Sullivan was born in 1861.

Fr Sullivan was the son of Edward Sullivan, a member of the Church of Ireland and a successful barrister who would later be lord chancellor of Ireland. His mother, Elizabeth Bailey, was a Catholic from Cork.

Fr Sullivan followed the route of privileged Protestantism at the time, attending Portora Royal School near Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, and Trinity College Dublin, before going to London where he studied law.

In 1896, at age 35, he converted to Catholicism, and was ordained a Jesuit priest 11 years later. He joined the teaching staff at Clongowes Wood college, where he remained until his death in 1933 aged 71. He had spent half his life Protestant and half Catholic.

Work with the poor

Known for his life of prayer and work with the poor, Fr Sullivan was familiar in the Kildare villages around Clongowes, and spent much of his time visiting the troubled, sick or dying. Even before he died many testified to the healing power of his prayers.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints last year recognised as a miracle attributed to him the recovery from cancer of Dublin woman Delia Farnham in 1954 . One more miracle needs to be proven before he is canonised.

It has been emphasised by those promoting his cause how he is “remembered and revered” by both Catholic and Protestant traditions.

Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson said the recognition of Fr Sullivan’s “holiness has a strong ecumenical feel to it, as he never rejected the influence of the Anglican tradition on his spiritual flourishing”.

Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said “the holiness of John Sullivan was the fruit of his education in both Catholic and Church of Ireland traditions”.

Fr Sullivan’s influence even found its way into the political realm in Ireland. Undoubtedly aware that the priest was born in his Dublin Central constituency, former taoiseach Bertie Ahern quoted him in his farewell speech when he stepped down 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.”