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Catholic and Anglican archbishops to play historic joint role in Ireland’s first beatification

A display case in memory of Fr John Sullivan at the People’s Church, Clongowes Wood College (Irish Jesuits/Flickr)

The first beatification ceremony to be held in Ireland will take place in Dublin on May 13.

Fr John Sullivan, a Jesuit famed for his devotion to the poor and sick and for the efficacy of his prayers, will be beatified at the Jesuit Gardiner Street church where he is buried.

In an unprecedented gesture, the formal request for beatification will be made by Anglican as well as Catholic archbishops. This is because Fr Sullivan was raised Anglican before converting to Catholicism.

During the Mass, a large portrait of Fr Sullivan will be unveiled and a relic of his hair, which was kept by his barber, Charlie Barrett, will be brought to the altar. The Ave Maria and Panis Angelicus will be sung by one of Ireland’s leading sopranos, Celine Byrne.

A large number of pilgrims from all over Ireland are expected in Dublin for the ceremony on May 13. The beatification Mass will be broadcast live online and it will also be shown in two marquees set up in the garden of the Gardiner Street church as well as in the nearby Jesuit Belvedere College, a private boys’ secondary school.

The principal celebrant and homilist will be Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. He will be assisted by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin.

The miracle that paved the way for Fr Sullivan’s beatification was formally recognised by the Vatican last year. A Dubliner, Delia Farnham, had made a miraculous recovery from a neck tumour in 1954 after praying for his intercession. Among the other healings attributed to him is one of Michael Collins, nephew of his namesake Michael Collins, founder of the Irish Free State in 1922, who was paralysed as a young boy but suddenly walked after Fr Sullivan touched his leg and prayed over him.

John Sullivan was born in Dublin in 1861 to a wealthy Anglican father and Catholic mother. At the turn of the century, while working as a barrister in London, he converted to Catholicism. His reception into the Church was at Farm Street, the centre 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. 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 fiercely devoted to the sick, and would travel long distances to make a sick call, often on a battered bicycle.

He died on February 19, 1933, at St Vincent’s Nursing Home, Dublin. His Cause was opened in 1944, 11 years after his death. It was only in 2014, however, that Pope Francis declared him Venerable and acknowledged that he had lived a life of heroic virtue.

Fr Conor Harper, vice postulator of the Cause, said last year that it was remarkable that Fr Sullivan was revered by two Christian traditions. Anglican Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin and Glendalough said: “We rejoice in the fact that, as well as living a life that honoured God and the Jesuit order, he spent half of his life as a member of the Church of Ireland.”