Like all his fellow-Jesuits, Father John Sullivan spent much time giving Spiritual Exercises to religious communities. Undoubtedly, he made a lasting impression upon those with whom he came into contact and it is evident from those who underwent a spiritual retreat with Father, that he practised what he preached.
The following are some extracts from letters received after his death:
From the Ursuline convent, Waterford: “Father Sullivan;s love for the Blessed Sacrament, to which he seemed to be drawn as steel to the magnet, was so great that it was with difficulty he could be induced to leave his thanksgiving after Mass. When the Sister, after some delay, went to call him to his breakfast, he was usually found making the Way of the Cross. Then when she thought he was following her to the parlour for breakfast, he would be seen hastening to visit a Calvary which stands in the grounds. (…) An unwonted atmosphere of prayer, calm and recollection seemed to pervade the house during Father Sullivan’s visit as extraordinary confessor. It was the unconscious reflex of his own deep, simple spirituality, for he was ever an adept at self-effacement.”
From the Poor Clares, Ballyjamesduff: “His lectures were (…) most interesting, and above all, full of the love of God. He loved to talk of the mercy of God, and seemed to have great veneration for the holy women in the Gospel. He often emphasised the fact that they never left Our Lord, but were faithful to the end. But his spirit of prayer and mortification preached even more eloquently than his words. He prayed all the time. After the last lecture, he remained on praying until the convent door was closed at 8p.m. (…) He ate very little, no meat, a little rice pudding, without eggs for dinner. How he lived was a mystery.”
From the Sacred Heart convent, Lower Leeson Street, Dublin: “What struck me most was his utter mortification. His clothes, though neat, were of the poorest. I have seen him travel a long train journey on a most bitter winter’s day with no protection against the cold, not even a pair of gloves. Half frozen at the end of his journey, he made nothing of it. (…) It was in the confessional that he excelled. Timer or trouble were nothing to him, if only he could bring souls to love and serve Our Lord more intensely His penitents came away filled with fresh courage and confidence. (…) Father Sullivan had a wonderful devotion to the Sacred Passion of Our Lord and tried hard to instill the same into the hearts of others. He and his crucifix were never separated.”
In August 1925, Father Sullivan preached a retreat at the Presentation convent in Mitchelstown, Co. Cork, where he made a edifying and lasting impression not only on the nuns, but also on the town’s inhabitants. One morning a maid, sent to cut vegetables in the garden, excitedly returned to the kitchen, exclaiming, “The holy Father is prostrate on the ground, his arms stretched out, saying his prayers.” The news spread about “the real holy Father”, as described by another maid. As a result the convent chapel was filled with townspeople during evening Benediction.”
One gentleman remarked of him, “I stood to look at him and thought to myself that he must be a great saint.”