Northern Ireland

'Protestant priest' John Sullivan beatified in Dublin

A portrait of Fr John Sullivan Image copyright Jesuits in Ireland
Image caption Former Enniskillen schoolboy Fr John Sullivan was raised as a Protestant by his wealthy Dublin family but later converted to Catholicism

A Jesuit priest, who was raised as a Protestant, has been beatified at the first such ceremony held in Ireland.

Father John Sullivan was born in Dublin in 1861 and later attended Portora Royal School in Enniskillen.

Fr Sullivan was beatified in recognition of his work with the sick and the dying, a significant step towards canonisation or sainthood.

The ceremony took place at Gardiner Street Church in Dublin on Saturday.

It was conducted by Cardinal Angelo Amato, assisted by the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin. The Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Michael Jackson, was also there.

During the ceremony relics relating to Fr Sullivan were blessed, including the "Sullivan Cross" which he would take with him when visiting the sick.

Image copyright RTÉ
Image caption The ceremony took place at Dublin's Gardiner Street Church

Cardinal Angelo Amato said Fr Sullivan had been "exemplary" in his religious duties.

He added: "Those who knew him considered him a saint, and in my opinion he had reached a high degree of perfection."

'Extraordinary devotion'

After leaving Portora, he studied at Trinity College Dublin, before being called to the bar in London.

However, in 1896 aged 35 he converted to Catholicism before entering the Jesuit order in 1900.

He taught at Clongowes Wood College in Dublin until his death in 1933, aged 71.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The beatification ceremony was conducted by Cardinal Angelo Amato assisted by the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, pictured above

Brendan McManus SJ told the BBC that Fr Sullivan's life had completely changed when he became a Jesuit.

"He was over 40 by the time he got to the priesthood, he had a very successful career in law before that," he said.

"He was a very rich, very influential figure in Dublin and then gave it all up to join the Jesuits and became austere.

"He had this extraordinary devotion to prayer and a very simple, very austere lifestyle.

"He was somebody who was out on the road a lot visiting people who were sick and in hospital, so he had this extraordinary ministry which was such a contrast to what he had lived beforehand.

"The beatification is one of the key steps on the way to sainthood, which is canonisation.

"There's been hundreds of testimonies attributing various healings to him during his life and a number of those are seen as miracles and have been verified as miracles which has led to the beatification.

"After you've been beatified you need a separate miracle which happens afterwards to become a saint, so hopefully we'll see Saint John Sullivan down the line."

Representatives from the former Portora Royal School in County Fermanagh will also be present at the ceremony.

The school's other notable pupils include dramatists Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett.

Portora was a non-denominational school but it was governed by the Fermanagh Protestant Board of Education.

Image caption Portora Royal School traces its origins back to the 17th Century

It is now called Enniskillen Royal Grammar School following a merger in 2016.

The school's former principal Neil Morton said he hoped that it would be known as the only Protestant school with a Catholic saint.

"That epitomises the special nature of the school, and Fr Sullivan's story also emphasises the special relationship between Portora and Clongowes Wood," he said.

"Portora has had a famously liberal tradition throughout its history and John Sullivan is evidence of that."

The event was streamed online on the Irish Jesuit website.

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