Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Deacon Joseph Sullivan to be ordained a priest May 30

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the May 22, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Deacon Joseph Sullivan recently completed priestly formation at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon. (IR file photo)

What Deacon Joseph Sullivan calls his “Damascus experience” will end Friday, May 30 when he is ordained a priest. The ordination will take place at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, 1115 W. Riverside in Spokane at 7 p.m. His first assignment is as a parochial vicar at St. Patrick and St. Francis parishes in Walla Walla.

The next afternoon, May 31, the new Father Sullivan will celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Charles Parish, 4515 N. Alberta in Spokane, at 5 p.m. Deacon Sullivan worked in the parish during his pastoral year and again last summer during his break from school.

While the road to priesthood has been long, Deacon Sullivan said he has no doubt he is on the right track. He said he had been too busy with school work to think much about ordination, even though it was “always in the back of my mind.” As the date draws nearer, though, he finds himself thinking about it with a certain “excited apprehension.”

Before entering the seminary, Deacon Sullivan worked as a geologist in various parts of the U.S. One job brought him to the Pacific Northwest, a place he liked so much, he bought property near Colville, thinking he would return. That job ended and Deacon Sullivan returned to the East Coast, eventually taking a job in Alabama. He sold his property in the Northwest and abandoned any thought of coming back.

As Deacon Sullivan reflected on his decision to become a priest, it seemed he was to take another kind of journey.

“I had a Damascus experience,” he said, “a surprising experience of God that sent me to the Scriptures and other spiritual books. I began to pray earnestly, asking ‘Is that you, God? What’s going on here?’”

In the beginning, Deacon Sullivan had a “hard time” figuring out his experience. “I was a pragmatic scientist,” he said. However, as he prayed, he realized he had a choice to respond and to “follow through. It was a matter of perseverance.”

How to follow through was the next step. Deacon Sullivan began sending away for vocation brochures, and he also checked out monastic life. One day, he read Jesuit Father Armand Nigro’s ad in Our Sunday Visitor and called the 800 number. Father Nigro had started a program for late vocations called Mater Dei Seminary, now The Ministry Institute at Mater Dei, and placed ads in publications all over the United States. Deacon Sullivan was greatly surprised and pleased to learn the Institute was in Spokane. That was in 1995. He spent a couple of years at the Institute, “in discernment and religious studies,” before going to Bishop White Seminary.

He was at the Spokane seminary for another two years studying philosophy at Gonzaga University before beginning four years of theology studies at Mount Angel Seminary in St. Benedict, Ore. In addition, he took a pastoral year when he served at St. Charles Parish. He completed work on a master’s degree in divinity at Mount Angel, and was graduated May 10.

Deacon Sullivan acknowledges that following through on his call to priesthood has taken support from others. Father Nigro assisted him greatly in the beginning. “He was instrumental in helping me decide about my call and strongly encouraged me,” Deacon Sullivan said.

But there were others as well, too many to name. “It seemed that people came into my life providentially all along the way. Many times they would just come up and talk to me,” he said. Through that, Deacon Sullivan saw the guidance of God and Mary leading him on his journey to service in the Church.

Deacon Sullivan has a special devotion to Mary and the rosary is one of his regular forms of prayer, one he began using again after his “Damascus experience.” He grew up Catholic and fondly remembered his altar boy days when “we had to know Latin.” His mother, Stella, who will come from her home in Atlanta for her son’s ordination, attends the Byzantine Rite Catholic Church. One of his two brothers is deceased.

He sees his age, 51, and his life experiences as a plus, giving him empathy to relate with parishioners. He loves preaching and his hope is that he will be able to “share the love of God” that has been so profoundly revealed in his own life.

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