Born: 08 May 1861, Dublin
Entered: 07 September 1900, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 28 July 1907, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 02 February 1915, Clongowes, Wood College SJ
Died: 19 February 1933, St Vincent’s Nursing Home, Dublin
Part of the Clongowes Wood College, Naas, Co Kildare community at the time of death.
by 1903 at Stonyhurst England (ANG) studying
◆ Royal Irish Academy : Dictionary of Irish Biography, Cambridge University Press online :
by Conor Harper
Sullivan, John (1861–1933), Jesuit priest, was born 8 May 1861 at 41 Eccles Street, Dublin, the youngest child in a family of four sons and one daughter of Edward Sullivan (qv), barrister, and his wife Elizabeth (Bessie) Josephine (née Baily) of Passage West, Co. Cork. There is an impressive perspective from the doorstep of the old Sullivan home sweeping down to the elegant and noble dimensions of St George's church, Hardwicke Place, where John was baptised into the Church of Ireland on 15 July 1861. Soon after John's birth, the Sullivan family moved to the more fashionable south side of Dublin where they settled at 32 Fitzwilliam Place. This was to be the Sullivan home for more than forty years. John had one sister, Annie, and three brothers, Edward (qv), Robert (who drowned in a boating accident in Killiney Bay), and William, a resident magistrate. According to the tradition of the time the Sullivan boys were brought up in their father's protestant faith and their sister Annie followed her mother and was raised a catholic.
In 1873 John and his brother William were sent to Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, as their older brothers had been before them. Portora's reputation had grown considerably under Dr William Steele (qv), an enlightened and progressive headmaster. John's years at Portora were happy. In one of his few published writings he gives an insight into his school life, writing of his first arrival at Portora ‘bathed in tears’, but when, five years later, the time came for him to leave he wept ‘more plentiful tears’. After Portora he became an undergraduate at TCD, where in 1883 he was awarded the gold medal in classics. Having achieved a junior moderatorship in classics, he started to study law. But in 1885 he was devastated by the sudden death of his father, then lord chancellor of Ireland. He subsequently continued his studies at Lincoln's Inn, where he was called to the English bar in 1888. Due to his inheritance, he was financially comfortable, and was noted for his fashionable dress and good looks. He travelled a great deal throughout Europe and was a cycling enthusiast. While in Greece he visited the monastery of Mount Athos and was deeply marked by the experience.
In December 1896, to the utter surprise of his family, he became a catholic and was received into the church at Farm Street Jesuit church in London. His family was ‘shell shocked’ when the news reached Dublin, according to Nedda Davis, granddaughter of his brother William. Not that the members of his family were hostile to his decision. His mother was a devout catholic but John had never shown any particular interest in religion. More surprises were to follow when his manner of life changed sharply. He adopted a simple style of living that was also reflected in his manner of dress. From this time he was a regular visitor to the Hospice for the Dying in Harold's Cross in south Dublin, and helped the poor in many ways. Then in September 1900 he entered the Jesuit noviciate at Rahan, which was known as Tullabeg, near Tullamore, Co. Offaly. In September 1902 he took his vows for life as a member of the Society of Jesus. Having studied philosophy at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, he returned to study theology at Milltown Park, where he was ordained on Sunday 28 July 1907. He was then sent to teach in Clongowes Wood College in Co. Kildare. From that time, with the exception of the period 1919–24, when he was rector of the Jesuit house at Rathfarnham Castle, he was a member of the Clongowes community. Most of the boys whom he taught considered him to be different to other Jesuits. He was regarded as a holy man but, like many a good scholar, was a poor teacher.
His reputation for holiness went far beyond the classroom at Clongowes. He also ministered from the People's Church, which served as a chapel of ease to people who lived in the environs of Clongowes. He was much sought after as a confessor and spiritual guide. The poor and the needy found him to be a reliable friend, and he was a constant visitor of the sick. Stories of his care of the sick are legion, as are claims to have been cured by his prayers (detailed by Fergal McGrath in his biography). His reputation as a healer continues, and his cause for canonisation has been pursued.
Sullivan lived a rugged and ascetic life. His meals were simple, mainly a diet of dry bread, porridge, rice and cold tea. He slept little, spending most of the night in prayer. His room at Clongowes lacked even simple comforts. The fire in winter was lit only when he was expecting a visitor. His life of austerity and prayer reflected the hardship and simplicities of the early Desert Fathers. He wore the worn patched clothing of the very poor. To the time of his death he was in demand as a preacher of retreats to religious communities of men and women, which again provided an experience of holiness rather than eloquence. One interest from the past which he maintained was an interest in cycling. His old-fashioned bicycle was a familiar sight on the roads around Clane, and he was known to have cycled to Dublin on more than one occasion to visit the sick. When not travelling by bicycle, he usually walked, a stooped, shuffling figure.
Nothing is known of his political views at a time of political upheaval in Ireland. He always maintained close contact with his protestant family who reciprocated his warm affection and concern. His brother Sir William (d. 1937) travelled from England to be with him when he was dying.
He enjoyed good health until shortly before his death, maintaining his rigorous round of visits to the sick, giving retreats and working in Clongowes. On the morning of 17 February 1933 he suffered violent internal pain and was brought to St Vincent's nursing home on Leeson Street where he died 19 February 1933. He was buried at Clongowes but his remains were exhumed in 1960 and transferred to the Jesuit church of St Francis Xavier on Gardiner Street. The popular novelist, Ethel Mannin, based her novel Late have I loved thee (1948) on Sullivan's life.
Fergal McGrath, Father John Sullivan (1941); Mathias Bodkin, The port of tears: the life of Father John Sullivan, S. J. (1954); Morgan Costello, The saintly Father John: John Sullivan S. J. (1963); Fergal McGrath, More memories of Father John Sullivan (1976); Peter Costello, Clongowes Wood. A history of Clongowes Wood College 1814–1989 (1989); McRedmond; Conor Harper, ‘Father John Sullivan – a man for others’, The Clongowes Union centenary chronicle (1997)
◆ Jesuits in Ireland :
Fr John Sullivan SJ: A short biography
ohn Sullivan was born in Dublin on 8 May 1861. His father, the future Lord Chancellor of Ireland Sir Edward Sullivan was a Protestant. His mother, Lady Bessie Josephine Sullivan was a Catholic. John was baptised in St. George’s Protestant Church on 15 June 1861 and brought up in the Protestant tradition of his father. From his earliest years John enjoyed the benefits of a home which radiated warm affection, high culture and sound scholarship.
In 1873 John followed in the footsteps of his brothers and went to Portora Royal School, Enniskillen in Northern Ireland which had the reputation of being the most eminent Protestant school of the day. He spent happy years at Portora and in later years admitted that he went to Portora “bathed in tears” but when the time came to leave he “wept more plentiful tears”.
After Portora, John went to Trinity College Dublin. He distinguished himself in his university studies and in 1885 he was awarded the Gold Medal in Classics. After gaining a Senior Moderatorship in Classics, John started to study law. It was at this time that his father, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland Sir Edward Sullivan, died suddenly. The shock had a devastating effect on John.
The promising young scholar left Ireland and continued his legal studies at Lincoln’s Inn in London where he was called to the Bar in 1888. At this time, due to his inheritance, he was very comfortable in financial terms, noted for his fashionable dress and handsome appearance. He travelled extensively around Europe and was a keen cycling enthusiast. He stayed at the Orthodox monastery of Mount Athos in Greece and was friendly with the monks.
Then, in December 1896 at the age of 35, he made a momentous decision. He was received into the Catholic Church at the Jesuit Church, Farm Street, London. From this time onward a marked changed was noted in his manner of living. On returning to the family home in Dublin, he stripped his room of anything that was superfluous, satisfying himself with the simplest of furniture on a carpetless floor. The young man, who was formerly noted for his fashionable dress, contented himself with the plainest of clothes.
He became a regular visitor to Dublin hospitals and convents where he was a welcome visitor. He had a remarkable gift for putting patients in good humour and showed special sympathy toward the old, bringing them gifts of snuff or packages of tea and reading for them from religious books.
In September 1900 John Sullivan decided to enter the Society of Jesus. The two years of novitiate in St. Stanislaus College, Tullamore, were followed by studies in philosophy at Stonyhurst College in England. From the beginning, he was clearly different to other Jesuits. He gave himself completely to his new way of life. All who lived with him were struck by his dedication to prayer and to religious life. Despite his outstanding gifts, he never paraded his knowledge but was always careful to help others whenever possible.
In 1904 he came to Milltown Park to study theology and he was ordained a priest on 28 July 1907. He was then appointed to the staff in Clongowes Wood College, Co. Kildare where he was to spend the greater part of his life as a Jesuit, apart from the period 1919-1924 when he was Rector of Rathfarnham Castle, the Jesuit House of Studies in Dublin.
Fr. John’s reputation for holiness spread rapidly around Clongowes and the neighbourhood. Despite his brilliant mind and academic achievements it was his holiness that was recognised. Many revered him as a saint. He prayed constantly – he walked with God continually – he listened to Him and he found Him and God worked through him. Many who were in need of spiritual or physical healing flocked to him and asked his prayers – and strange things happened. The power of God seemed to work through him and many were cured.
He was always available to the sick, the poor, anyone in need. The call to serve God in serving those who suffered in any way was a driving force for the rest of his life. He was always caring for others – a source of comfort and peace to anyone in trouble. He brought many to God by pointing out the way that leads to the deepest and ultimate peace. He was always at prayer whenever possible. Every available moment was spent in the chapel.
He walked with God and lived every conscious moment in his nearer presence. At times he hardly seemed to notice the ordinary world around him. He was in constant union with his Maker and cared little for the material things of life. One old lady who lived near Clongowes managed to penetrate the secret of his extraordinary holiness: “Fr. Sullivan is very hard on himself – but he is never hard on others”. He ate the plainest of food and lived a life of severe penance. He left everything in order to follow the call of his Lord and Master and he found the riches of a different order. What a contrast with the rich young man of his earlier years!
Fr John Sullivan died in the old St. Vincent’s Nursing Home in Leeson Street, a short distance from the Sullivan family home on 19 February 1933. Since that time, he has been revered by many as a saint. During his lifetime many flocked to him in times of trouble and anxiety, confident of the power of his prayers – and that confidence continues. He is still loved and remembered.
Servant of God in September 1960; Venerable November 2014; Beatified 13 May 2017
Blessed Elect John Sullivan once asked a student what the ladies were like in his Latin class, to which the student replied ‘Rather plain.’ A gleam of amusement came into Father John’s eyes as he exclaimed: “In God’s name, there, I didn’t mean that. What are they like in Latin?”
It is in this light that I look into the personality of probably the holiest Irish Jesuit in tangible memory (1861-1933). So much of our lives are influenced by early days. John came from a blessed childhood in a happy, loving home. He had three brothers and one sister to play with as he grew up in Dublin and his parents invested in his education at Portora Royal School in County Fermanagh.
John won the college gold medal in Classics at Trinity College Dublin and later pursued law. Through a long, slow process of conversion, John’s protestant viewpoint became a Catholic one, and he entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1900. A fellow-novice Mgr. John Morris stated, ‘Were it not for his sense of humour, he might have awed us, as all were conscious that he was very holy.’
He was fast-tracked to the priesthood and sent to Clongowes Wood College, the Jesuit boarding school in County Kildare. Schoolboy John Fitzgerald remembered him fondly: “Meeting you on a stone corridor on a bleak cold winter’s evening he would clap those hands and say, ‘Cheer up, cheer up’. Yes, we loved Father John, or Father Johnny O as we used to call him.”
Moreover, Father Sullivan expressed himself through his physical appearance. “His boots were mended and mended again and again until they became a joke, but when people tried to get him a new pair he would have none of it.” For someone who was once dubbed the best dressed man in Dublin, his old friends and family must have been stirred by this drastic change, in line with the ruggedness of St. Francis of Assisi, one of his favourite saints.
Father John was not dependent on external conditions to make him happy. He beamed with the inner joy of faith and tried to guide others along their paths. He once recounted to a fellow-Jesuit, with an appreciative smile, his efforts to get an old man to take the pledge. “Ah Father,” was the reply, “you never saw a jolly party round a pump.”
I am inspired to follow in Father John’s footsteps; it is delightful to see how his wit was compatible with his holiness. Like him, I pledge to embrace the cheerfulness of our Church.
◆ Irish Jesuit Missions :
Fr Sullivan: the last witness
Fr John Fitzgerald SJ, the last surviving Jesuit to have been taught in Clongowes by Fr John Sullivan, shared some precious memories at the commemorative Mass :
The bones of Fr John Sullivan are your precious possession. They draw his clients from near and far. If John is beatified, St Francis Xavier’s will be a place of pilgrimage like St Thomas a’Becket is at Canterbury, Blessed Pope John XXIII at St Peter’s, Bl. Mother Teresa at Calcutta, and as Cardinal Newman will be at the Oratory in Birmingham. The people in a quiet corner of County Kildare still keep such fond memories of John. They were greatly saddened when his bones were taken away from them for Gardiner Street in 1961. It is a sad separation they will always feel. In fact his grave has been visited ever since.
The relocation of Father’s bones is as good for his cause as it is for you who give them this new home. You have always by your devotion shown how grateful you are to have him. You bring him day by day the stories of your needs – they are always pressing and often sad. John listens – he was always a ready and eager listener to others’ worries.
Coming to St Francis Xavier’s was in a sense a homecoming. John had been baptised in Temple Street (St George’s), and Dublin was his home until he joined the Jesuits. During the years in Clongowes, the City’s hospitals, the Mater included, were within range of his trusty old bicycle.
Sometimes people have asked me what was he really like. Some have a nagging impression that he must have been an ascendancy type, as his father was a baronet and he had passed through Portora Royal School to Trinity College. My own memory of him – clear and vivid – is of a humble, entirely self-effacing person, riveted on the one thing necessary, the commandment of love. He was completely focussed on the needs of others, particularly of the poor and suffering. For him the face of the Lord was there. Gardiner Street would have been an ideal assignment with so much sickness, suffering and poverty all around in the hungry years between the wars.
Clongowes in its rural isolation does not seem an ideal place for one so drawn to the poor and suffering. I knew John in the last three years of his life – my memories are boy’s memories – a child’s impressions – but still so vivid. His appearance so well captured in Sean Keating’s drawing – the sunken cheeks, the fine crop of brown hair, the bowed head, the penetrating eyes – a true man of God. I remember his wrinkled leathery hands. Meeting you on a stone corridor on a bleak cold winter’s evening he would clap those hands and say “Cheer up, cheer up, cheer up”. He well knew the mood of small boys – short of funds, nursing chilblains and facing into two hours’ study. I have a memory of Johnny O shuffling quickly from the sacristy, head bowed, halting at the altar rails – a welcome interruption to the evening rosary. Always he would describe a visit he had made to some sick or dying person. He was no gifted story-teller, no gifted preacher. There were no embellishments; sincerity shone through, telling of his complete devotion to the sick and needy.
John was occupied with the People’s Church and the boys’ spiritual needs with very little teaching. He took the smallest ones for Religion classes. Often we delighted to annoy him by rowdiness and irreverence. This drew the condemnation we intended: “Audacious fellow – pugnacious fellow!” Deep down we revered him, but we played on him.
If some day you visit the Boys’ Chapel, you see at the back on your left Fr John’s Confessional. The “toughs” – the ones never selected as prefects and who won no prizes – were most often there. The smaller boys would crowd into his very bare room after supper. We would come away with rosaries and Agnus Deis which John got from convents he knew. The People’s Church is the easiest place for a visitor to find. There is where John spent long hours and helped so many in times of trial. There he prayed long after the boys were tucked in bed.
Father John was our Spiritual Father. His life and interests revolved round the boys’ spiritual needs. He took no part and had no interest in our games – never appeared at matches, debates, concerts or plays. Free time meant time for prayer or the sick. No use asking Johnny O to pray for victory at Croke Park today, but he will listen to your sorrows, he will pray for your sick and departed ones.
The day of Fr John’s funeral in 1933 comes back clearly. I was in the youngest group and so was up front in the Chapel, and near the coffin. I tried without success to cut off a splinter – as a keepsake, a relic. We had been privileged to know Fr John for three years. Not everyone is so blessed – perhaps only a few have been close to saintliness in one who so well mirrored the Lord Jesus, the Suffering Servant. It is a joy to be here in St Francis Xavier’s and to share your treasure – the Venerable John Sullivan.
◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 8th Year No 2 1933
Fr John Sullivan
Needless to say the entire Irish Province keenly feels the loss of one of its holiest and most esteemed members, Father John Sullivan. He died at St; Vincent's Hospital, Dublin, Sunday, 19th February, 1933.
The Father Rector of Clongowes has very kindly sent us the following appreciation, written by Father Mulcahy :
It was in Clongowes that Father John spent twenty of the thirty-three years of his religious life. Thirty-three years in the Society is a comparatively short time. but these years were so full that one must truly say that Father Sullivan explevit tempera multa. The impression left on us all is that he has left a blank that bewilders us with its greatness. One does not feel that he is gone from us. One half expects to and him going about his multitudinous spiritual activities as usual. Death, especially in a college full of young life, is usually associated with an uncanny feeling , but, for us in Clongowes for the boys as well as for the community the effect of his death is rather one of triumph, of pride in having possessed such a man of God, of still possessing him but with greater power to help, with a wider sympathy for our weaknesses and our needs, with a truer interest in us in those things that matter.
Last evening two Lower Liners were talking to me about him and the remark came quite simply from one of them, a very ordinary lad in a low class, “Sir, is it not a great thing to be able to say .that you were taught by a saint?, and the funny thing is that we knew it even when we ragged him a bit.” And the other chimed in in the patois of the Line. “Sir, you never hear of a man they knew was a saint while he was dodging about”.
Born in Dublin, 8th May, 1861, the third son of the late Sir Edward Sullivan, Bart., formerly Master of the Rolls and Lord Chancellor of Ireland. he was educated at Portora School. In the Clongowes Museum are three large silver medals won there:; for English Literature in 1877, the Steele Memorial Prize, ]uly, 1879 and another Midsummer 1879 " In Classics." . He graduated at T,C.D., where he won several medals. We. have one 1883, “Literis Humanioribus feliciter excultis. His classical attainments were of a very high order and not of the dry-as-dust kind, for he made several walking tours in Greece, Macedonia and Asia Minor to trace out in stone and dust the lore he loved.
1898 saw him received into the Church and on September 7th, 1900, we find him in Tullabeg. He did Philosophy at Stonyhurst, 1902-04 , Theology at Milltown Park, 1904-07. The rest of his life he spent in Clongowes, except 1913-14 when he was in the Tertianship at Tullabeg, and 1919-24 when he was Rector of Rathfarnham Castle - twenty years of unceasing care for the souls of the boys in the college, which care did not stop when they had left for the bigger world of life. A large sheaf of telegrams and letters received by the Rector expressing sympathy on the news of his death shows how this care was appreciated.
In charge of the public church attached to the college, he came into touch With an ever-growing circle of the faithful. His life, already more than fully occupied, was invaded by those who came long distances to ask his advice, to avail of his ministrations as Confessor, to ask for his blessing on the sick and, as they insisted, to hope for a cure even of cases despaired of by doctors. The poor and the sick and above all the dying were, one is hardly afraid to say, his “joy”. The reverence in which he was held and the confidence in him was shown very simply the morning of his funeral. Father Rector had said Mass at 9 o'clock in the public church, the old boys' chapel. When the Mass was over the congregation moved up quietly to the coffin and all, many kneeling, blessed the coffin repeatedly, placing on it objects of piety, rosaries, crosses prayer-books, etc, Later when the grave, was filled in and bishop and priests and boys had moved away, the people who felt that now his power was greater than ever, came to carry to their homes some of the earth that covered him. “O Grave, where is thy victory”.
So our loss to the eye is a gain to our faith.
"One example, out of many that might be given, of the power of his prayers may be cited : A man was dying in a neighbouring town. He had refused to see a priest though urged to do so by the nurse who was nursing him and by the doctor. Word was sent to Father Sullivan to come to see him. Father Sullivan, however, was not able to go, but sent word that he would say Mass for him at 9 o'clock the following morning. At 9.30 on that morning the man of his own accord asked for a priest and was prepared for death which took place on that day.
Father Sullivan's last illness was very brief. On Monday, 6th February, the doctor ordered him to the infirmary, as, amongst other things, one of his arms was showing nasty signs.
This did not appear to be serious and the arm was practically healed on Thursday the 16th when he was allowed up. He said that he had not felt better for fifty years. About 11am on Friday he complained of very severe pains. The doctor was sent for immediately, and as he was not satisfied sent for a surgeon who declared that an immediate operation was necessary. At 3 p.rn Father Sullivan was removed in ambulance to Dublin, and was operated on about 5 pm. This revealed a very serious state of affairs, and the doctors could
hold out no hope of recovery. Father Sullivan lingered on until Sunday night, and died at 10.55. He had been conscious all Friday and Saturday, and had received Holy Communion
on each day. When asked how he felt his invariable answer was “' Wonderfully well, thank God”. After the operation he suffered very little pain.
Father G. Roche has been good enough to send the following extract from a letter :
Although never having met him, I know him well through the boys. I think the way they expressed themselves in their weekly letters home plainly tells what they thought of him. “Father Sullivan (we call him the Saint, Mum) is dying, you will be sorry to hear. By the time this letter arrives he will probably be in heaven. A strange coincidence, the night, Sunday and Monday, Jim (an elder brother who has left school) could not sleep thinking of Father Sullivan and his devotion to the Sodality, and he told me that he felt he must keep on repeating whatever prayers were usual, seeing all the time Father Sullivan. He was shocked when a friend passed him on a paper yesterday and asked : Did you know him?”
Father Roche adds : " Father Sullivan died at 11pm on Sunday, the very night that Jim saw him. A great many requests for relics have come to us.
Irish Province News 23rd Year No 1 1948
The Tribunal for the Informative Process in Fr. John Sullivan's Cause was set up by Dr. McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin, on the 24th October, 1947. The first Session was held at Archbishop's House on 30th October ; subsequent Meetings will take place at the Presbytery, Upper Gardiner Street. Fr. Charles O'Conor is Vicepostulator. The following letter was addressed to the Province by Rev. Fr. Provincial on the occasion of the setting up of the Tribunal :
28th October, 1947 :
Reverend and dear Fr. Rector,
PX. In a letter dated 24th October, 1947, His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin, writes :
“I have great pleasure in informing you that I have this day instituted the Tribunal for the Ordinary Informative Process in the Cause of the Beatification and Canonization of the Servant of God, John Sullivan, Priest of your Society”.
The first session of the Tribunal, appointed by His Grace, will take place at Archbishop's House next Thursday at 12 noon. It is the first stage in a very long process which we hope and pray may one day have its happy issue in one of our own Province being raised to the honours of the Altar. I commend the Cause, now about to be opened, to the prayers of all ; and I ask each priest to say a Mass (first intention) and those who are not priests to offer Mass, Holy Communion and the Beads once for the success of the Informative Process which begins on Thursday.
May God, who glorifies those who glorify Him, be ever increasingly honoured in the honours given to His servant ; may Ours be more powerfully and effectively incited to strive for that sanctity proper to the Society by considering this new and contemporary example of virtue ; may our Province in its present necessities have in Father John Sullivan a powerful intercessor with God.
Commending myself to Your Reverence's holy Sacrifices and prayers.
Yours Sincerely in Xto.,
THOMAS BYRNE, S.J.
Irish Province News 24th Year No 1 1949
On 6th November Fr. Daniel O'Connell, of the Viceprovince, who during his stay in Ireland gave evidence in Fr. Sullivan's cause, left Southampton for U.S.A. on 6th November.
Irish Province News 27th Year No 1 1952
FR. JOHN SULLIVAN'S CAUSE :
As the result of close upon seven years of fairly constant work, official registration of evidence in the two preliminary processes De Fama Sanctitatis et de non-cultu, in connection with Fr. Sullivan's Cause, has now been completed. These processes provide the evidence that must enable the Congregation of Rites to determine whether the matter of the Cause is one deserving of the official sanction of the Church or not.
In all something over fifty witnesses have been examined: roughly about two thirds of whom were from the Province—the rest externs. Except for certain inaugural meetings of the Ecclesiastical Court at which his Grace had to preside (which were held at Archbishop's House) all but one of the meetings for registration of evidence have been held at Gardiner St.
At an early date in the proceedings Fr. Curtin who was acting Notary of the Court was replaced by Fr. Michael Brown, Archbishop's House, and somewhat later the first President of the Court, the late Archdeacon MacMahon, took ill and died. Very Rev. Canon Neary, already a member of the Court, was appointed new President and Dr. O’Halloran of City Quay was added to complete the requisite number of judges. Mgr. Dargan and Fr. Barry of High Street have been all the time attached to the Court. At all times the members of the Court have showed great interest in the Cause and have manifested a graciousness and generosity that has been most striking. They have had more than a hundred sessions involving their presence at Gardiner St. from 11 a.m. till about 4 p.m.
The next stage in the proceedings is to have all the evidence transcribed and collated with the original record after which al will be ready for transmission to Rome.
Great help has been given by many in the Province by the distribution of leaflets and relic cards. A considerable number of records of favours of most varied kinds has also been accumulated. From letters received it is clear too that a great many Masses and prayers are being constantly offered for the success of the Cause.
Irish Province News 28th Year No 2 1953
A further stage in the Cause of Beatification and Canonisation of Fr. John Sullivan was reached in the New Year : edicts concerning his Writings were simultaneously issued by the Archbishop of Dublin and by the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin in their respective dioceses.
The following is the text of Dr. McQuaid's edict :
To the Clergy and the Haithful of the Diocese of Dublin.
In accordance with the Instructions of the Holy See, which requires that writings (if any) attributed to Servants of God whose Causes of Beatification and Canonization are being canonically investigated should be collected and examined we hereby command the Clergy and Faithful of this City and Diocese who possess any writings of the Servant of God, Father John Sullivan, S.J., such as sermons, letters, diaries, autobiographies, whether written by him in his own hand or by others at his dictation, to present themselves within the space of one month from this date at Archbishop's House, Dublin, for the purpose of handing over such writings or properly authenticated copies thereof. Any person knowing that writings of the above-mentioned Servant of God are held by others is bound to communicate his information to Archbishop's House, Dublin.
Archbishop of Dublin,
Primate of Ireland. Given at Dublin, this 1st day of January, 1953.
Irish Province News 35th Year No 4 1960
The final session of the Ordinary or Informative Process in the Cause of Beatification of the Servant of God, Father John Sullivan, S.J., was held at Archbishop's House, Dublin, on 4th July. His Grace the Arch bishop, Index Ordinarius in the Process, presided.
In the lengthy final session, the Acta were read and signed by all present, after they had been formally authenticated by the Archbishop. The evidence of the sanctity and heroicity of virtue of Father John Sullivan, evidence in regard to his writings and non cultus, which had been collected during the course of the Process and transcribed into ten bound volumes, was placed in a specially-made oak container, sealed in eight places, inside and outside, by His Grace in the presence of the Delegate Judge, the Assistant Judges and the Officials of the Process. Six additional seals were then set on the container and it was entrusted, together with a sealed letter of His Grace, to the Vice-Postulator of the Cause, Very Reverend Fr. Charles O'Conor, S.J., Provincial, for personal transmission to the Sacred Congregation of Rites in Rome.
This evidence will be examined by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, which will then decide in regard to the holding of a further Process, known as the Apostolic Process, in the Cause.
The authentic copies of all the original documents in the case were then sealed by His Grace the Archbishop and placed in the Archives at Arch bishop's House, until such time as the Holy See may direct that they be reopened.
The case containing the evidence was brought to Rome in August by Mr. Seán Ó hÉideáin, Secretary at the Irish Embassy to the Holy See. It was given diplomatic coverage through the courtesy of the Department of External Affairs.
Irish Province News 36th Year No 1 1961
EXHUMATION AND TRANSFERENCE OF REMAINS OF FR. JOHN SULLIVAN
The exhumation of the remains of the Servant of God, Fr. John Sullivan, S.J., and their transference to St. Francis Xavier's Church, Upper Gardiner St., Dublin, took place on 27th-29th September. This step was taken by the Vice-Postulator of the Cause of Fr. Sullivan, Very Rev. Fr. Provincial, on the advice of Fr. Paul Molinari, the Postulator, and with the approval of Very Rev. Fr. General and the Ordinaries of the archdiocese of Dublin and the diocese of Kildare and Leighlin, and the permission of the respective public authorities.
The proceedings at Clongowes were presided over by Right Rev. Mgr. James J. Conway, P.P., V.G., appointed Judex Delegatus by His Lordship the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, assisted by Right Rev. William Miller, P.P., V.G., Promotor Fidei. His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin was represented by Rev. Michael Browne, D.D., Notarius. Witnesses to the identity of the grave were Fr. P. Kenny, S.J. (who was Minister of Clongowes at the time of the burial in 1933) and two employees of Clongowes, John Cribben and Frank Smyth. Fr. Molinari, the Postulator, who had come from Rome, remained until a late stage in the exhumation; Fr. Provincial, Fr. B. Barry, Fr. Socius, and Fr. H. Lawton Rector of Clongowes, were present throughout. The doctors charged with the examination of the remains were Dr. Edward T. Freeman, Dublin, and Dr. George O'Reilly, Kilcock, Dr. Brendan O'Donnell, Medical Officer, Co. Kildare, Mr. Joseph Reynolds, Inspector, Public Health Department, Naas, and Mr. Patrick Coen, Chief Health Inspector, Dublin Corporation, represented the public authorities. The actual exhumation was carried out by two gravediggers from Glasnevin Cemetery, under the direction of Mr. John Doyle, Superintendent. Half-a-dozen members of the Garda Siochana, under the direction of Chief Super intendent O'Driscoll, Naas, were on duty to secure complete privacy for the proceedings.
At 10 a.m, on 27th September, the clergy, witnesses to the identity of the grave and gravediggers assembled in the Castle, and took the required oath not to remove anything from the coffin or to place anything in it which might be regarded as a relic. At the graveside all present were warned by the Notarius that the same obligation applied to them under pain of excommunication reserved to the Holy See. The exhumation commenced at 10.30 a.m. The day was fortunately fine, though very cold. At a few minutes before twelve, when the excavation had reached a depth of about four feet six inches, the breastplate of the coffin was found, and just as the Angelus was ringing, the outline of the coffin became visible. It was apparent that the headstone and cross had not been placed exactly over the coffin, so that what now appeared was one side of the coffin, This necessitated further excavation to remove the earth from the other side. It was also apparent that the lid of the coffin had decayed. From now on, the excavation was very slow, trowels only being used for fear of damage to the remains. About an hour later, the feet of the remains were uncovered, the boots being intact, Finally, when the grave had been considerably widened and as much as possible of the earth removed, it was found that the sides and bottom of the coffin were intact, and that thus it could be raised completely from the grave. This was accomplished at 5.40, and the coffin was placed in the hearse - again just as the Angelus was ringing and brought in procession to the People's Church and thence to the adjoining classroom. The two doctors worked from 7.30 to 10.30 p.m, preparing the remains for re-burial. These were laid out on a pallett covered with white silk and then transferred to the inner oak coffin, into which was put a copper cylinder containing the authentication signed by various witnesses, clerical and lay. The leaden coffin surrounding the inner coffin was then closed and soldered and sealed in two places with the seal of the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin. During this process, Dr. Freeman dictated to the Notarius a full account of the exhumation and the medical findings. Finally, at 1 a.m. the leaden coffin was placed in the outer oak coffin, which was transferred to a catafalque in the People's Church.
Next morning, Fr. Rector celebrated Mass in the presence of the remains, the church being filled with the senior boys and many of the faithful. Immediately after Mass, pilgrims from the surrounding country side and even from distant areas began to arrive in large numbers and continued all day. At 7 p.m. a queue of over a hundred was waiting outside to secure admittance to the church. At 9.30 p.m. the coffin was transferred to the Boys' Chapel. The following morning, 29th September, the stream of pilgrims began again. Their devotion on both days was most edifying, evidencing itself by their kissing the coffin and touching it with beads, prayer-books and other objects of devotion.
At 2 p.m. the Absolution was pronounced by Fr. Rector in the presence of the Community and boys. The funeral procession then proceeded up the avenue, preceded by the entire school and followed by a large crowd of the faithful and some fifty cars. At the front gate, the boys lined each side of the avenue. The procession then proceeded to Dublin. At almost every house and crossroad groups of people had gathered, and knelt as the hearse passed. At Clane and Celbridge, schoolchildren lined the route. At Lucan, two Garda patrol cars joined the procession, going in front to secure an uninterrupted passage. On arrival at the city, a Garda motor cyclist gave warning to the Gardai on duty on the quays, who stopped traffic from the side streets. As a result of this careful organisation, spontaneously arranged by the Garda authorities, the procession reached Gardiner Street punctually at a few minutes to 4 p.m.
It was received on the steps of the church by Most Rev. Dr. McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin. With him were the Bishop of Nara, Most Rev. Dr. Dunne, the Archbishop of Malacca, Singapore, Most Rev. Dr. Olcomendy (who was visiting Dublin), Right Rev. Mgr. Boylan, Right Rev. Mgr. O'Reilly, Right Rev. Mgr. Glennon, Right Rev. Mgr. Deery and Right Rev. Mgr. O'Regan. The members of the Province paid a most worthy tribute to the saintly memory of Fr. Sullivan, some 250 of them being present. Though no publicity had been given to the proceedings, the church was crowded, Much credit is due to Fr. M. Meade, Superior, Fr. D. Mulcahy, Minister, and Fr. J. McAvoy, who acted as marshal, that the ceremony was conducted so smoothly and with such dignity. After the Absolution, the remains were brought to the vault which had been specially built, adjoining the Sacred Heart chapel. The vault was blessed by His Grace the Archbishop, who was assisted by Very Rev. Canon O'Donnell and Very Rev. M. Canon Boylan. The coffin was then deposited on two pillars of limestone, the ornamental grille was closed, and the ceremony concluded with the singing of the Benedictus by the Milltown Park choir. That evening, there was an uninterrupted stream of pilgrims to the vault, and the indications since then are that it has been accepted by the people of Dublin as one of their recognised places of pilgrimage.
The Roman Documents Referring to the Cause of Fr. Sullivan
Beatificationis et Canonizationis
Servi Dei IOANNIS SULLIVAN, Sacerdotis Professi Societatis Iesu.
Instante Rev-mo P. Paulus Molinari, Generalis Postulator Societatis Iesu, Sacra Rituum Congregatio, vigore facultatum sibi a Ss-mo Domino nostro IOANNE PAPA XXTII tributarum, benigne indulget ut processus ordinarius informativus super fama sanctitas, vitae, virtutem et miraculorum in genere Servi Dei Ioannis Sullivan, Sacerdotis professi eiusdem Societatis Iesu, clausus sigillisque munitus in Actis eiusdem Sacrae Rituum Congregationis asservatus, aperire valeat : servatis omnibus de iure, stylo et consuetudine servandis.Contrariis non obstantibus quibuslibet.
Die 16 Septembris 1960.
+C. CARD. CICOGNANI,
Beatificationis et Canonizationis
Servi Dei IOANNIS SULLIVAN, Sacerdotis Professi Societatis Iesu.
Clausus sigillisque munitus invenitur in Actis Sacrae Rituum Con gregationis processus ordinaria potestate in Curia Dublinensi instructus super CULTU NUNQUAM PRAESTITO Servo Dei Joanni Sullivan, Sacerdoti professo Societatis Jesu. Hinc Rev-mus P. Paulus Molinari, Postulator Generalis eiusdem Societatis, a Sanctitate sua humiliter postulavit ut dicti processus aperitionem indulgere benigne dignaretur. Sacro porro eadem Rituum Congregatio, utendo facultatibus sibi ab Ipso Ss-mo Domino nostro JOANNE PAPA XXIII tributis, benigne annuit pro gratia juxta preces: servatis omnibus de jure, stylo et con suetudine servandis.
Contrariis non obstantibus quibuslibet.
Die 16 Septembris 1960.
+C. CARD. CICOGNANI,
Beatificationis et Canonizationis
Servi Dei IOANNIS SULLIVAN, Sacerdotis Professi Societatis Iesu.
Rev-mus P. Paulus Molinari, Generalis Postulator Societatis Iesu, ad pedes Sanctitatis Suae provolutus, humiliter postulavit ut processus ordinaria auctoritate in Curia Dublinensi constructus super scriptis Servi Dei Ioannis Sullivan, Sacerdotis professi eiusdem Societatis, et in Actis eiusdem Sacrae Rituum Congregationis, clausus sigillisque munitus, asservatus, rite aperiatur. Sacra porro eadem Rituum Congregatio, vigore facultatum sibi a Ss-mo Domino nostro IOANNE PAPA XXTII tributarum, attentis expositis, benigne annuit pro gratia iusta preces: servatis omnibus de iure, stylo et consuetudine servandis,
Contrariis non obstantibus quibuslibet.
Die 16 Septembris 1960.
+C. CARD. CICOGNANI,
◆ James B Stephenson SJ Menologies 1973
Father John Sullivan SJ 1861-1933
In Eccles Street Dublin, on May 8th 1861, John Sullivan, of Sir Edward Sullivan, Bart. later Attorney-General, Master of the Rolls and finally Lord Chancellor of Ireland. Sir Edward was a Protestant, his wife was a Catholic, and as was common in those daystheir daughter Annie, the eldest of the family was baptised and reared a Catholic, and the boys as Protestants. So, John Sullivan was baptised into the Protestant Faith in St George’s Church, Temple Street. John was sent to Royal Portora School in 1873 where he remained for six years.
In 1879 he won a classical scholarship to Trinity College, did his law degree at Lincoln’s Inn, London and was called to the English bar in 1888. The followed a period during which he travelled extensively on the Continent. In 1889 he was received into the Catholic Church by Fr Michael Gavin SJ, at Farm Street, London. Three years later he entered our noviceship at Tullabeg, and was ordained at Milltown Park by Archbishop Walsh in 1907.
He spent almost all his life at Clongowes, with an interval as Rector of Rathfarnham, 1919 to 1924. Being in charge of the People’s Church, he devoted himself with intense zeal to the sick and the dying, and acquired a reputation for extraordinary sanctity and the working of miracles.
He died on February 19th 1933, and almost immediately there sprang up, on the part of the people a spontaneous cultus to him. The initial step in his cause for canonisation was taken up in 1947 with the setting up of the Judicial Informative Process. The final step in Ireland was taken in July 1960 when the evidence as to his heroic sanctity was forwarded to Rome in bound volumes.
Meantime it was decided to translate his body from the cemetery in Clongowes to Gardiner Street. On Tuesday September 27th, the body was exhumed in the presence of official witnesses. It was not found incorrupt. On September 29th, encased in a set of coffins, the body was solemnly conveyed to Dublin, and placed in a beautiful new tomb visible to the public. There it lies awaiting the verdict of the Church, the object of veneration daily of hundreds of visitors.
MEMORIES OF FATHER JOHN SULLIVAN
Bob Thompson took an interesting initiative in writing to the senior members of the Province who knew our Servant of God - whether as boys in Clongowes Wood or as fellow members of a Jesuit Community. Here are the ten replies received.
My acquaintance with Fr John Sullivan is limited to the retreat he conducted for my vows for September 2nd, 1930. Emo was only three weeks old when we started that retreat. An Ambulacrum served as a Chapel, but Fr Sullivan spoke to us in the Conference Room. There was an aisle between two rows of tables with a dais in front of one row. Fr Sullivan always came into the room with a quick lively sort of run, and would drop on his two knees on the floor, not the raised edge of the dais.
When he spoke, all the while he held a crucifix in one hand, and stroked his dark greying hair with the other. He seemed to find all he wanted to say on the crucifix.
Three things I remember about that retreat. First, it was a marked contrast to the one I heard the previous year from Fr Michael Browne. Fr Browne was austere, severe and for me awesome . Fr Sullivan seemed to spread around him a warmth and a kindliness.
The second thing is a letter he read to us. He introduced it by saying: “These are not my thoughts, but they are the thoughts of an elderly priest in the Province and I give them for what they are worth”. The letter went something like this:
You are going to give the novices their retreat. Would you please impress on them the importance of the virtue of Charity. I'm an old man in the Province now and I can honestly say that I have experienced very little Charity, but I have met with an awful lot of diplomacy...
The third thing that remains with me is that while he made no effort at eloquence, and often cut short descriptions with an "and all that", he could still be very graphic. I can still see and hear his account of Peter's reaction to John's “It is the Lord” - “SPLASH” and Peter is in the water".
During that retreat I was anything but filled with consolation. I can still remember a glow of happiness when I made my confession to Fr John. I can't recall what I said, or what he said, but I can't forget the joy and peace I felt leaving his room.
One other memory of those days: Fr Lol Kearns - go meadai Dia a ghlóir - made that retreat too. He used to tell this story against himself. He knew Fr John had the reputation of being a saint, and he wanted to be able to say that he had visited the saint in his room, so he concocted a difficulty.
“Father in my class in Mungret I could name eight boys who would have been better suited to be Jesuits than I am. I ask myself why did God call me, rather than one of them?”
“Ah now! Carry on! Carry on! and thank God for his bad taste”.
Fr John Sullivan was Rector of Rathfarnham Castle during my first year there as a junior. One's first impression of him was quite frightening -- the gaunt face, the shabby clothes, greenish but scrupulously clean, the extreme austerity of his meals.
But in short time one became aware of something extra ordinarily attractive about him. It is difficult to put into words, but one came not merely to "make allowances" for him, or just to like him, but genuinely to love him. His one aim in life seemed to be to prevent anyone admiring him. In that he failed miserably.
One of the older Jesuits told me how, at a meeting of the Classical Society of UCD, which Johnny was persuaded to attend, the Juniors who were there were immensely impressed by the deference shown to Johnny by their Professors and several Dons from Trinity College. One got accustomed to being accosted in the avenue by some poor person who had come a long way “to see the priest who works miracles”.
Johnny had a puckish sense of humour which normally was kept strictly hidden. But on one occasion which I heard of it popped out. Paul O'Flanagan, who later became a splendid preacher, was doing Science, and tried by all means to avoid the chore of preaching in the refectory. However, on the last available day Paul was summoned by the Rector. One excuse after another were exposed in their feebleness by the stern Rector. Then Johnny said with what must have been a twinkle in his eye: “In God's name there, aren't you in charge of the seismograph?” “Yes, Father”, said Paul. “Well, wouldn't it be a terrible thing if there was an earthquake and there was nobody there to attend to it? You had better not preach”.
I remember very vividly the satisfaction with which Johnny read out in the Refectory the announcement of the appointment of Fr John Keane as his successor as Rector. It was as if he was muttering to himself “that's one in the eye for you, John Sullivan”.
He was unforgettable. He was a Saint.
I was in Clongowes for two years only - 1931-1933 - as a Scholastic, and during those two years Fr John was resident there.
He was Spiritual Father in the community, and he gave the Customary Domestic exhortations in the Domestic Chapel. As a scholastic, I recollect that we were obliged to visit him from time to time and, if we failed in that duty, I recall that he would come to see us in our rooms and talk to us about any matter that we might like to discuss with him. He was always helpful, kind and friendly.
One small matter concerning him remains vividly in my memory. During lunch-time break when we came to the refectory, he would gently ask us to sit down, and he would come around with the tea pot, pouring the tea for us, saying that we were hard at work and that he had nothing to do. While this caused me personally a little embarrassment it also filled me with admiration for his humility and fraternal charity.
We were aware that he regularly visited the poor, the sick and distressed people in the surrounding district and frequently one would see him moving fast - trotting really - down the avenue from the college in pursuit of that work. It was also well known, of course, that people came regularly to consult him and to seek his advice and direction in their troubles, worries and needs. I think I am also right in saying that during school hours (classes, recreation or otherwise) he was always available in a room in the college for pupils who might wish to visit or consult him.
There is nothing further which I feel that I could add of a personal nature concerning Fr John. Of course, all of us were well aware of his undoubted sanctity and his fully committed
Jesuit way of life.
Reams could be written about Fr John. I knew him and had him for my confessor - 1924-1926. Most patient and kind to all of us, especially his class. He had combined sixth year for RK, a most unruly lot and poor Fr John had no control, but we revered and loved him so he got us to learn something about our religion.
I entered the Noviceship from that class and persevered, Fr John's prayers!? One night during recreation I was in the library - Fr John had forgotten to pull down his blind. He was on his knees praying before a crucifix. I didn't read a word watching him - face transformed, immobile. A man devoted to God - all of us know that. May he be raised to the altar.
The only contact I had with Fr Sullivan was a retreat at Emo Park around 1935. Most of us found it rather dull and boring. It was obvious to all of us that he was a very saintly man. He spent very little time at meals, and piety seemed to 'ooze' from him.
He had a great devotion to Our Blessed Lady, and if you met him in the house, or grounds, he had his rosary beads in his hands.
I never lived in the same community, and so I cannot say much more about him.
A master was out ill. Two classes were put together (usually disastrous). Fr John was teaching them religion. He was going through St Luke's Gospel with great fervour but we were talking all the time - this almost entirely because of the mixture of classes. He would read on and comment as if he didn't notice, then he would stop: “Too much talk, too much talk, Jim E. down there you're not listening, not listening to St Luke the most beautiful book in the whole world, not listening there”. But sometimes when our ignorant and unmannerly talking almost drowned him he would get really angry and give out forcefully, mostly in the same words as above. Then he would perceptibly repent of his anger and end up with a joke and as good a smile as he could manage, always with the words: “Can't get a word in edgeways, trying hard, no hope, no hope”.
There had been snow for days and days. Everyone cooped up. no games. During “shop” one day Fr John came down and offered to take his classes - or perhaps the whole Higher Line - out for a walk. A good many came. We went out the front gate and did a circuit on the road. Many walked abreast with him. I forget what he was talking about. It might have been his travels in Greece. Perhaps half way around he struck for home across the snowy fields. Before us we saw a wide slobbery gap into the next field. Cattle had churned a large area of it into slush. Seeing it he repeated “C'mon, c'mon, c'mon” and started off in a wobbly run. I think his hands were up his sleeves. We all joined in and slushed through the muddy gap. We did the same in the next gap.
He was walking down the Higher Line Gallery, keeping close to the wall and very bowed. I saw his knee through a very loosely half-stitched vent in his trouser. Either the gown or the trouser had a green black shiny look.
I was in the infirmary in a room with two others. Fr John came in and knelt in turn at each bed to hear confession. He said a few encouraging words I think, but I don't remember.
He said the boys' Mass every day. Often he would stop on the way out - and I think sometimes on the way in - near the altar rail and speak rapidly with great sincerity and feeling. You didn't understand all he said, but he made an impact.
The windows of the old chemistry room faced across towards the study building, and faced the window of Fr John's room. One day a boy in the class called us over to the window; through the window of Fr John's room we could see him at his kneeler praying. We were not surprised.
His room was off the study stairs, the Higher Line dormitory opened on to the same stairs. On the way down the Mass in the morning the so-called “toughs” used to line up for confession.
As it was my privilege of living for sixteen years in the same community with Fr John, my most vivid recollections of him are his heroic practice of poverty in his personal life, and his utter dedication to all who were poor, to the sick and needy in a wide area around Clongowes. His names is held in awe to this very day by the relatives of all those people he had helped, both spiritually and physically, and indeed, by the many who never met him or had any connection with him. He is a living presence around Clongowes.
Though there are many accounts of Fr John's powers of healing, I am glad to recall Mrs. Tom Smyth's story to me about herself. Long before my time, she was an invalid, and not able to move around. When the family were out, they would close the door for safety sake. On a certain day there was a loud knock on the door. She didn't answer it. Then there was a second, and so she crawled up with the aid of a chair. When she opened it she recognised Fr John. He said he was looking for the invalid. “Can you help me? I am the invalid Father”. He told her to kneel down. It caused her intense suffering. He nearly drowned her with holy water and prayed over her (her own words). That is the limit of my knowledge. She was happily married to Tom Smyth when cured, and lived a long life.
She died only last year. When I was on retreat in Clongowes, I felt sad to think of other days when we played cards in the farm yard with Tom and his wife,
Although I have never lived with Fr John Sullivan as a member of the Jesuit Community at Clongowes, I did, in fact, live for five schools years, 1928-33, under the same roof as “Johnny-O”, as we boys affectionately called him among ourselves. Nor was I taught by him, save on rare occasions when one of our regular teachers being absent, Fr John might be sent to look after us'. I can only recall one such occasion, when he made his usual hurried entry into our noisy classroom and without ado knelt, with head bowed, to recite the “Hail Mary”, as was the custom among the Jesuit masters in my time. With eyes still downcast, but occasionally glancing at the class, he stood before us and put a question on Geography to the class in general. "Where is Bessarabia, there! Bessarabia, there?", Glancing hopefully from one side of the silent class to the other. As I recollect, only one boy gave a satisfactory answer. Father John went on to tell us of some of his personal experiences in the South-Eastern part of Europe, including his visits to the Orthodox Ministries in Greece.
To the query “did I know him?” my first inclination would be to say, “yes, of course, I knew him”. Didn't everyone at Clongowes know him, and know him for what he undoubtedly was, a very holy Jesuit priest, first and last! Didn't he offer Mass, Monday to Friday, in our presence at 7.30 in the morning? Didn't he often ask our prayers for some sick or dying person; for some old Clongownian or Jesuit what had died? Didn't we see him kneeling outside his Confessional, (the one nearest the entrance on the left-hand side) several nights of the week, as we boys came out of supper? Didn't we know that on Saturday nights, the ‘hardened sinners’ amongst us found refuge in his ‘box’!!. Didn't we hear, day in, day out, from Jesuit Brothers, Scholastics and Priests how great was the demand for his help, not only by local people in trouble or in sickness, but from people far off? And more to the point, didn't we see or meet with him as he made his way, hurriedly to be sure, thro' the chattering throng of boys on the old Lower Line Gallery or elsewhere, talking now to one, now to the other?
I recall quite clearly two such occasions when he spoke to me in the midst of the 'madding crowd'. The first was on the noisy Third Line Gallery. I turned around to find him standing behind me with head slightly bowed, and his left hand brushing back the hair off his forehead - (this was a characteristic gesture). “What's your name, boy?” he asked. I told him. “I know your brothers”, was his reply. He then said, “Are you a Pioneer?”, and before I could answer “No, Father”, he said; “You know, you ought to be, for the love of God”. “Yes, Father”, I said. “Be in the Sacristy before Supper”, he replied and was gone. So I became a “probationer” (at the age of 14) on that day and a Pioneer two years later. It didn't cost me anything then or later, thank God, although it was much later that I came to appreciate the graces which flowed from this 'chance' meeting with a holy priest.
The second such meeting was equally unexpected and abrupt. It happened in October 1932, a few months before his death, on February 19th, 1933. He appeared from nowhere in the middle of a crowd of higher-liners and this time with the ghost of a smile on his rugged face, eyes lowered and hands half-clapping. Without any introduction, he kept repeating. “The word is VISCERA, VISCERA, VISCERA, not VISCERIA, VISCERIA. A common word there”. I was nimble in mind in those days and I knew almost immediately that he was correcting my pronunciation of a word - I'm sure there were many others - which occurred in the “Evening Office of the Dead” which the members of the Sodality of Our Lady used recite at their Saturday night meetings in the Sodality Chapel in the Castle. “Thank you, Father”, I muttered, and he ended the interview as he had begun it; “Yes, VISCERA, a very common word, there”. He was off again.
I might underline here a fact about Fr John's spirituality which made a deep and lasting impression upon me. It was his devotion to the Holy Souls. As this is a very Catholic devotion, he must have learned it, either from his mother or after his conversion, when his reading would have opened up the wonderful possibility of his being able to keep his dead relatives and friends for whom, up to this, he was not accustomed to pray. Whenever, or however he came across this practice, he made it part and parcel of his daily prayer life. In his week-day Masses and in his Sodality Masses on Saturdays, we boys were asked to pray for some person recently deceased. On rare occasions, too, we were asked to pray for some “poor man or woman dying in great pain”. The Holy Souls were for him the poorest of the poor because tho' they were in need, they could neither help themselves nor beg for help from the living! The doctrine of the Communion of Saints was one that appealed to him. For Christ's words were as true of them as any of the living: “As often as you do it to one of these, my least brethren, you do it for me”. Father John was ever on the “look-out for Christ in need”.
There was a third meeting which comes to my mind. My two brothers and myself had got permission to go to Dublin on a Playday in Autumn 1931. We had to rise early to catch a Provincial Bus that passed thro' Clane about 7.45 am on its way to the City. As we made our way we came to the straight part of the road which ends at the “Jolly Farmers”, we saw Father John jogging towards us. He evidently had been out on a nearby sick-call or bringing Holy Communion to some regular client and was returning “at speed” lest he be late for the Boys Mass at 8.00 am. He slowed down as he passed saying “God Bless you have a good day there” and was gone. I mention this passing encounter to record what I and the boys of my time frequently witnessed, namely his jogging along the avenue or around the Higher-Line track in the early morning. This, no doubt kept him fit; for physically fit he was, despite the austere life he freely lived so that he might be a minister of God after the example of Christ. Indeed, he had to keep fit, if he was to reach so many sick persons by walking or by riding his bicycle. Although I never saw him riding, I heard about it, some years before I went to Clongowes, from my mother. My eldest brother, John, took very ill at Clongowes on October, 1924. He was operated on in Dublin but given very little hope of recovery. Father John used to ride up from Clongowes in every kind of weather, spend half an hour praying over the dying boy. And then, off again back to Clongowes. After several days, when his life hung on a thread, my brother started to recover, and finally did so. My mother always maintained that her son's recovery was due to the prayers of Father John.