Saturday 18 November 2017

Churches unite as priest's beatification is first one held in Ireland

Honoured: Members of the public pay their respects at the remains of Fr John Sullivan after his beatification at St Francis Xavier's Church on Gardiner Street Photo: Damien Eagers
Honoured: Members of the public pay their respects at the remains of Fr John Sullivan after his beatification at St Francis Xavier's Church on Gardiner Street Photo: Damien Eagers
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Church of Ireland and Catholic Archbishops worked in unison for an unprecedented beatification ceremony in Dublin yesterday.

It is believed to be the first beatification ever held in Ireland. Fr John Sullivan, known as a "saintly Dublin priest", was conferred with the Blessed title during a special ceremony at St Francis Xavier Church in Gardiner St, Dublin, yesterday. It means he is considered to be "truly holy and worthy of veneration".

The next stage after beatification is sainthood.

An ecumenical request was made together by Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin and Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson during a special service conducted in English and Latin.

It was made by both archbishops because Fr John was raised in the Church of Ireland before converting to Catholicism in 1896.

He was born in Dublin in 1861 to a wealthy family. His father went on to become Ireland's Lord Chancellor.

He studied in Trinity College and was awarded a gold medal in Classics. He continued his studies at Lincoln's Inn in London and was called to the Bar in 1888.

By the time he converted to Catholicism, he had returned to Dublin and stripped his room of anything that was superfluous, satisfying himself with the simplest of furniture on a bare floor.

He was a frequent visitor to hospitals in Dublin and would bring gifts of snuff or packages of tea to patients. He would also read to them from religious books.

Fr John was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 1907 and was held in great affection by Dubliners at the time.

His reputation for holiness stemmed from his attention to the sick and the poor.

Most of his priestly life was spent in Clongowes Wood College, Co Kildare, where he built up a reputation for helping the sick and elderly by spending much of his time walking and cycling to those in need in nearby towns and villages. Locals revered him as a saint. They say he prayed constantly and those who were in need of spiritual or physical healing flocked to him and asked for his prayers. Some say he cured them of troubles or ailments.

Fr John died in 1933 and was buried at Clongowes.

He was later reinterred in a specially designed tomb at Gardiner St Church 27 years later. His relic was often borrowed and brought to aid sick and dying people, but it went missing in 1970.

The story garnered massive attention and filled newspapers for weeks before it was eventually returned eight months later, two weeks before Christmas Mass. It was said that people still flocked to him in times of trouble and anxiety, just as they did when he was alive.

A relic of Fr John's hair had been kept by his barber Charlie Barrett and was brought to the altar during yesterday's Mass. A large portrait was also unveiled during the ceremony.

It was streamed online and broadcast in two marquees in the church's back garden and in the nearby Belvedere College as organisers worked to accommodate huge crowds.

Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints was the principal celebrant and homilist yesterday.

The service was attended by members of Fr John's family, Dublin's Lord Mayor Brendan Carr and various religious dignitaries.

Sunday Independent

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