Little is known about the circumstances surrounding John Sullivan’s conversion. However, Mrs. Esther O’ Kiely remembers one incident which occurred in 1894 which probably contributed to the event.
When she was a little girl, Mrs. O’ Kiely lived at Glencar Hotel, Co. Kerry, which John Sullivan visited in 1894. The governess was teaching her Catechism at an open window and Mr. Sullivan was walking by. He asked her what she was learning and asked if he could listen to the instruction. He paid close attention during the lesson and later asked for a loan of the Butler’s Catechism being used. He came back the next day for another Catechism lesson, saying that he would get a catechism for himself, and also a Bible History, so that he would be able to follow the instructions better the next time he came to Glencar.
The next time we hear about Mr. Sullivan’s spriritual life is on the 21st December 1896, when he was received into the Catholic Church.
Vocation and Training
At nearly 40 years of age, on September 7th 1900, John Sullivan entered the Jesuit novitiate at Tullabeg. Here, he entered on that daily round of small yet exacting duties that make up the timetable of a Jesuit novice.
Although he was much more learned than the younger novices, especially in his knowledge of Greek and Latin, he never showed the least sign of superiority, going through his noviceship with great eagerness and zeal. He was greatly devoted to St. Augustine and St. Monica and had a vast knowledge of the lives of the saints.
On September 8th 1902, Mr. Sullivan took his first vows at Tullabeg. He was then sent to St. Mary’s Hall, Stonyhurst for two years of philosophical studies. Even in those early days, John Sullivan was starting to stand out from his fellow-religious as a man of exceptional virtue. He was an unpretentious, unselfish person, with “a regular genius for depreciating himself before others.” He was constantly visiting the Most Blessed Sacrament throughout the day and after Holy Communion, his fellow-religious were amazed at seeing how wrapt up in prayer he was.
In 1904, John Sullivan left for Milltown Park, Dublin to study theology. Again, his extraordinary virtue made him stand out from the others. He spent his spare time in prayer and visiting the sick at the nearby Hospice for the Dying and the Royal Hospital for the Incurables at Donnybrook.
On July 28th 1907, John Sullivan was ordained a priest by Archbishop Walsh in the chapel at Milltown Park. He said his first Mass for the Irish Sisters of Charity in Milltown. He was then appointed to the teaching staff at Clongowes Wood College, where he was to live for the remainder of his life.
Before he left, however, a remarkable incident occurred. One of the patients at the hospital in Donnybrook had been suffering from bad lupus in her head and the disease was getting serious. Father Sullivan came to visit her at the hospital and spent a long time praying over her. The next day, her mind was completely restored, and remained so until her death.