John Sullivan was born in Dublin in 1861 to a wealthy Protestant father and Catholic mother.
He attended elite Protestant schools in Ireland before studying law in London. In his 20's he stopped going to church. His father passed away when he was 24, which was a great shock to him.
By the early 1890s he appeared to have no clear religious views, but was moved by the Confessions of St. Augustine. He took religious instruction classes and read a catechism and Butler’s Lives of the Saints.
While working as a barrister in London, he converted to Catholicism at age 35. His reception into the Church was at Farm Street, the center of London’s Jesuit community, and he entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1900. He worked as a teacher in County Kildare and later as a rector on the outskirts of Dublin.
The priest spent much of his life teaching at Clongowes Wood College in Ireland's County Kildare.
“By many accounts he was not a great teacher but the boys loved him,” according to Sullivan’s biography on the website of the Irish Jesuits, written by historian Thomas Morrisey, S.J.
He would often visit the sick, the dying, and people who were troubled.
He is associated with a number of apparent miracles throughout his lifetime and his reputation attracted hundreds of ill people who came to him in the hope of a cure. He was especially devoted to the sick, and would travel long distances to make a sick call, often on an old bicycle. The priest was known for sleeping on the floor instead of his bed, placing stones in his walking boots, eating the plainest food, and sleeping for only a few hours a night so that he could pray late into the night.
The beatification will take place May 13 at St. Francis Xavier Church in Dublin, where the Jesuit priest's body was interred. Cardinal Angelo Amato of the Congregations for the Causes of Saints will take part in the ceremony. Protestant Church of Ireland leaders will also attend.
In a Feb. 18 homily at the church, the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said Fr. Sullivan was “a man of learning” who was “always aware of his responsibility to care for those around him and especially the poor.”
Archbishop Martin recalled the Gospel story of the rich young man who asked Jesus what was needed to attain eternal life. After telling the man to follow the Law of Moses and the Commandments, Jesus told him to sell all his goods and follow him.
“John Sullivan, faced with the same call, placed his life totally at the service of Jesus, renouncing wealth and worldly ambition and living the simplicity of life as a Jesuit,” Archbishop Martin said.
“His life would not just be marked by a rejection of outward wealth, but by a special concern for the poor and especially for the sick and the dying.”
During his life, many healings were attributed to his prayers, including the nephew of Irish Free State founder Michael Collins. The three-year-old boy, who had the same name as his famous uncle, had infantile paralysis that bent his leg in intense pain. The priest prayed for him, and he was healed.
Not long after Fr. Sullivan’s ordination, he visited the Royal Hospital for Incurables at Donnybrook and saw a woman who was suffering from lupus. The condition had affected her mind and she was about to be moved to a mental hospital. Father Sullivan stayed with her for a long time and prayed over her. The next day she had returned to full mental health.
People also attributed to him a gift for knowing the future, and a gift for ministering to those with scruples, obsessions or compulsions.
“When God forgives me my sins, he buries them beneath a large stone. It is desecration to root them up again,” he would say in response to such cases.
Father Sullivan died at age 71 on Feb. 19, 1933. People processed through the streets of Dublin in love and appreciation for his life. He was interred at St. Francis Xavier Church and his vault is a place of prayer for many people, especially those seeking healing. His cause was opened in 1944. The monthly Mass for his canonization regularly draws over 200 people.
In 1960 he was declared a Servant of God, and he was declared Venerable by Pope Francis in November 2014.
A Dublin woman’s healing from cancer in 1954 after praying for his intercession was recognized as Father Sullivan’s first miracle by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in 2016.