Fr. Richard Sullivan: Link in the Chain

March 12, 2014

On a fall afternoon 50 years ago, a librarian ran shouting into the Cushing-Martin Library offices at Stonehill College: “They’ve shot the president,” she screamed. This alarmed another librarian who shouted back, “Why would anyone want to shoot Fr. Sullivan?”

Why, indeed? Fr. Dick Sullivan, C.S.C., was a beloved Holy Cross priest who worked in the former Eastern Province of Priests and Brothers, serving generations of God’s people in a variety of apostolates. It was actually President John F. Kennedy who was shot that day.

Much could be written about his achievements in any or all of the positions he held within the Congregation. Fr. Sullivan entered Holy Cross Seminary as a “little seminarian” in the 1920s; was ordained in the 1930s; a graduate student in the 1940s; seminary rector and novice master in the 1950s; college professor and president in the 1960s; provincial in the 1960s; and spiritual master from the 1970s to the 2000s. Only advanced age and ill health persuaded him to give up those apostolates to spend his last years praying for the Congregation at Holy Cross House back at Notre Dame where his voyage began.

As impressive as his accomplishments were – and they were impressive – this note will focus on a service he provided for the Province and for the Congregation: He was a link in a very long chain. What does that mean: “link in the chain?” Fr. Sullivan received me into the Novitiate and gave me my religious habit. During that year, he arrived for the annual provincial visit. He gathered all of us into the conference room, took out a forerunner of the obituary found in our current Ordo and introduced us to that great band of men who striding, not walking, had gone before us. When Fr. Sullivan was in the little seminary, he knew brothers who had received their habits from Fr. Edward Sorin, C.S.C. He told us of the hard life of brothers who went door-to-door selling subscriptions to Ave Maria Magazine. He told of Holy Cross religious who struggled to create a university out of Notre Dame, colleges in Easton or Wilkes-Barre, parishes in Texas or who went of to work in new missions. In those days, the Eastern Province was comprised mostly of young men and deaths were rare. He spent even more time telling us about the members of that young province who themselves had died young. One example was Fr. Richard Novak, C.S.C., who was killed in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. He took what were only names for novices and breathed life into them. Through him, we learned much about what made Holy Cross a zealous, apostolic community.

If you pursue a vocation in Holy Cross, you will encounter several religious who will tell their old war stories.  Many of us can see in our mind’s eye seminarians cringe when a priest or brother starts a conversation by saying, “Why, when I was in formation…” That was not Fr. Sullivan’s style. You wanted to hear him because the stories were never about him; they were always about Holy Cross.

As time progressed, stories were told about him. He loved Scripture and it always formed the foundation of his preaching. He loved to eat. He loved people. He loved to travel. He loved Holy Cross. He loved the Lord.

During Fr. Sullivan’s funeral eulogy, Fr. Bob Kruse, C.S.C., said that when Richard Sullivan entered a room, everyone was glad to see him. Yes, indeed.

Fr. Tom Gariepy, C.S.C., is a professor and chair of the Department of Healthcare Administration at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass.