Alumnus Credits Miracle with Healing
January 26, 2010
Given the tough reality of the court and prison systems where he works and ministers, John "Jack" Sullivan [far left] hardly seems like someone who would put his faith in miracles.
Yet this 1961 Stonehill alumnus and Marshfield resident not only believes he was the recipient of a miraculous cure, but has had his belief confirmed by the Catholic Church.
Sullivan's sudden healing from a debilitating back condition in 2001 has been declared a miracle by Vatican officials and will make possible the beatification later this year of Cardinal John Henry Newman, an influential 19th-century theologian and former Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism.
Now pain free, Sullivan now plans to travel to England in September to serve as deacon for the beatification ceremonies that will be conducted by Pope Benedict XVI. The Pope proclaimed in July that Sullivan's healing was the miracle needed to beatify Newman, the final major step toward canonization.
"It's a gift," Sullivan said of his cure. "Nothing about my life could merit this." But the history major does credit his experiences at Stonehill with altering the course of events.
Robust and spirited at age 71, Sullivan now spends his days as chief magistrate at Plymouth District Court, then devotes his spare time to serving as deacon at a Catholic parish in Pembroke and performing prison ministry at the Plymouth House of Corrections.
Married and the father of three grown children, Sullivan is also a self-taught artist; using acrylics to paint landscapes that have been earned him recognition at area art shows.
His Catholic faith grounds him, a centering he never expected after growing up devoid of religious practice. As a youth, Sullivan viewed Catholic teachings as myths that could not be proven by reason. Then one day in the midst of his junior year at Stonehill, he was studying in his room when he felt what he describes as a tremendous sense of well-being, of peace and love of God.
"It was extremely profound," he said of the experience that led him to renew his faith, embrace his theological studies, and later enter the seminary, where he remained for only a year. "The fervor I had wore off a bit," he recalled. Sullivan then spent a year in a master's program at Georgetown University before returning to Boston to earn a law degree at Suffolk University, practice law, and eventually become a court magistrate.
By the late 1990s, he began training to become a permanent deacon, but midway through his studies, his world was shaken once again. He awoke one morning in 2000 with intense pain in his legs. Doctors later diagnosed disc and vertebrae abnormalities, and recommended surgery to avoid eventual paralysis. "I was in agony," Sullivan said.
He went home distraught and turned on a religious television program for consolation. The program focused on Newman's candidacy for sainthood and the hope that the required miracles would one day be proven. Sullivan said he felt compelled to pray to Newman, asking him to intercede with God to relieve his pain so he could return to his studies.
The next morning, he woke up pain-free, and remained that way for eight months until the pain returned so severely that he often had to hunch over to walk. Surgery was performed in August 2001, and days later on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, Sullivan said the pain was excruciating as he struggled to get out of bed for therapy.
So he prayed again to Newman, then felt again what he had experienced that day at Stonehill - a tingling all over, and a sense of peace and well-being that lasted for some time. When it was over, he was able to stand and walk out of the hospital room. He continues to walk pain-free to this day.
Doctors could not explain his sudden healing, he said, and had expected his full recovery to take up to 12 months. Sullivan wrote to the priests at Newman's community, the Birmingham Oratory in England, who forwarded the details of his case to Rome. What followed was an eight-year investigation by Vatican officials that ended with the Pope's declaration on July 3, 2009.
"My healing was a miracle according to the standards of the Church," Sullivan said. In November he went to England to describe his experiences at a press conference, and he now plans to travel and speak about Newman's life to help raise funds to cover the cost of the beatification next fall.
The recognition of Newman, who died in 1890, is timely, Sullivan said. Newman's writings are still relevant today, he said, and his conversion to Catholicism may resonate with disaffected Anglicans who are currently being welcomed by Pope Benedict into the Church.
Sullivan's hope now is that another miracle will someday be verified so Newman can be declared a saint. He is well aware of the skepticism surrounding miracles, but he said those who doubt need only see him in his current state of health to be convinced.
What happened to him, he said, was providential. "And it all started at Stonehill," Sullivan said.
For more information, contact Communications and Media Relations at 508-565-1321.