At Maryknoll Lay Missioners we are deeply saddened by the news that Maryknoll Father Jack Sullivan died this Monday morning.
Father Jack was greatly instrumental in the founding of the Maryknoll Lay Missioner program. When the program was officially established in June 1975, Father Jack was its first director and Maryknoll Sister Mary Anne O’Donnell its assistant director. The following year Chuck Lathrop joined them, and the three formed an “ecclesial team” of co-directors for the first few years of the Maryknoll lay mission program.
Throughout our history, Father Jack collaborated closely with Maryknoll Lay Missioners and remained a spiritual guide, mentor and enthusiastic cheerleader to the association.
Father Jack passed away on August 9 at the Society Center in Maryknoll, New York. He was 87 years old and a Maryknoll priest for 61 years.
His memorial Mass will take place on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021 at 11:00 AM EDT in the Queen of Apostles Chapel, Maryknoll, New York. Attendance is limited because of COVID restrictions, but a livestream of the Mass can be accessed by either of the following links: https://maryknollsociety.org/mass-of-christian-burial/ and on Youtube https://youtu.be/3lSEuWde0C8. Both links will allow you to view the livestream as the Mass is occurring. The YouTube link can also be used to watch the memorial at any time after it has taken place.
Our deepest sympathy to the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers and to Father Jack’s family.
Eternal rest grant unto Father Jack, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.
Here are a few of the memories and tributes we have received. Please add your own memories and/or tribute in the comments section below.
From Vicki Armour-Hileman
Class of 1988; admissions manager
Father Jack Sullivan was one of the most naturally pastoral people I have ever met. I first got to know him in Hong Kong as a brand-new lay missioner at the tail end of 1988. I had been very ill with a virus when I first arrived, and the experience had created some cracks in my usual bravado.
I confessed to him I was secretly having misgivings about this whole mission business. I admitted I wasn’t sure I could take another step into this unknown world where everything was unfamiliar, from the cry of the birds outside my window to the feeling of the air that lay wet and heavy in my lungs, making every breath an effort. But Father Jack talked me through it. “You’ve come this far,” he said, “Now all you have to do is let the momentum carry you. Just put one foot in front of the other. Keep going. It’s going to be OK.”
At the time, I didn’t fully realize how important Father Jack was to the lay missioner program, to Maryknoll or to the world. I only knew I was scared and feeling alone and he helped me face those feelings and move forward despite them. Now, of course, I know more about who I was talking to: a man beloved by the Chinese people, a giant in Maryknoll, a visionary, the one who imagined a new place for laity within Maryknoll and within mission — someone who both personally and collectively was always imagining new ways forward.
We will miss you, Father Jack. Thank you for being the sort of person who helped others become their best and bravest selves. I hope you can feel our love and gratitude even now, as you continue to find a new way forward, still moving ahead of us, taking this next leg of the ongoing journey into the unknown.
From Chuck Lathrop
Served as co-director with Father Jack in the early days of the Maryknoll lay mission program
Thinking of Jack now on the Kingdom’s Other Side fills me with smiles; his absence now on this side of the Kingdom brings on the sighs of course, but many a Deo Gratias as well for the privilege of knowing, working with and loving Jack Sullivan.
I first met Jack and Mary Anne O’Donnell in January 1975, when I was attending the Maryknoll Sisters’ Mission Institute. Little did I know then that they would later invite me to join them, come July 1976, in the establishment of the Maryknoll Lay Missioner Program. Those first three years were crazy — and good! It was new and different and day-in-day-out challenging. And in the midst of it all, there was this calm, humble, very savvy and very wise human being, Jack Sullivan. He was never one to hang a picture frame around himself. He faced praise and opposition with the same grace.
His vision of church, of mission, was, to my mind, that of the roundtable, where there are no sides and no corners for “the least of these.” where every seat is the best seat in the house, where the servant and the served were, in the end, indistinguishable. In a few words, he wasn’t afraid or scared of anything. He was breaking molds and he knew it, but did so with respect for those who agreed or disagreed. He could win and he could lose with equal grace.
The three of us, Jack, Mary Anne, and then Frank and Josie Cuda, moved on from the lay missioner program in the summer of 1979. In October that year, I emigrated to Ireland, but my connections with those four, plus Kathy Wright and Nancy Kleppel, continue on to this day. And on this day, 9 August, 2021, Jack departed. I feel his absence already, and yet, I feel too, his ongoing presence, in new and different ways. And in the midst of the mystery of it all, I am and will forever remain grateful for the good likes of him, who continues to challenge me to the core.
God rest and bless him mightily. And now, his curiosity can be boundless!
From Bob Short
Class of 1978; executive coordinator, Maryknoll Affiliates
I first met Jack Sullivan, MM (I’m pretty certain the first Maryknoller I ever came across) when my wife Shirley and I were interviewing for the lay missioners in the late 70s. He, along with Maryanne O’Donnell, MM, and Chuck Lathrop also led us through our four-month formation before we headed for Bolivia.
I cannot think of another person who integrated humor, kindness, expansive thinking, thoughtfulness and joy as did Jack. He couldn’t help but to regularly surpass the prescribed boundaries of the day and proffer something viewed by many as radical, even prophetic. Yet, without quieting his voice, he loved Maryknoll and accepted that many were not yet ready for his often cosmic perspective.
I last talked with Jack two weeks ago at the Society Chapter. The once 6-foot-4 man was confined to a wheelchair now and, with end stage COPD, finding it difficult to breathe. Still, very characteristically, he joked about not letting the authorities send him out to the hospital in his last days, as he wanted to die on the Maryknoll grounds — the place he loved and wherein he brought so much light and joy for over 60 years. Beyond “Thank you, Jack,” I really don’t have the words to match my emotion.
From Sam Stanton & Cecilia Espinoza
Class of 1985; they served for 33 years with MKLM, Sam for nine of them as executive director
Today we lost an incredible Maryknoller, Fr. Jack Sullivan, a spiritual mentor, advocate of laity in mission and friend.
Jack was one of the founders of Maryknoll Lay Missioners. He, Sister Mary Anne O’Donnell and Chuck Lathrop, along with a wonderful support team, set the foundation for an organization that would send more than 900 men, women and families to mission in 34 countries around the world over the next 45 years.
In our years as members of the Maryknoll Chile Region, Jack and his work partner, Sister Maria Rickleman, visited us on three occasions to offer spiritual direction and retreats. Their last visit coincided with the plebiscite that overthrew the ruthless dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in a peaceful process. They happened to be staying with us in our town of Linares when the grand celebration of freedom and the return to democracy took place. It was a gift to have them share that significant moment with us and something very special for them.
Jack remained an important mentor over the years through the founding of the Maryknoll Association and beyond. His deep commitment to laity never waivered. I am confident that his spirit, now dancing through the cosmos, will continue that same support. Jack Presente!
From Liz Mach
Class of 1976; served as a Maryknoll lay missioner for 44 years
Father Jack Sullivan believed so deeply in the call to lay ministry in the church and Maryknoll (long before others were on board with it) and never faltered in the pursuit of making it a reality for so many of us.
From the beginning of the program, he was able to work with sisters and lay folks and showed others how to do this well. The early years were ones of beginning to define this call and how we could be integrated into the vocational call to mission.
He was a teacher, a leader and a kind, gentle spirit who challenged each one of us to live our life as a missioner. I feel so blessed to have had him at Maryknoll when I arrived as a young woman and his lifelong commitment to mission as a role model. RIP, dear friend and missioner.
From Kathy Wright
Long-time staff member of Maryknoll Lay Missioners
I first knew Jack in 1978 when he was my first boss in the Maryknoll Lay Missioners. Jack very quickly became a friend and mentor. He had a wealth of knowledge of life, the world and people. He was able to see past the outer facade of people and things and hone onto the important things. His quick Irish wit was always good for a laugh. I shall miss him dearly and will be forever grateful for having him in my life and heart.
From Cortney Freshwater
Class of 2018, Bolivia
I attached a photo that seems very fitting for my tribute to Fr. Jack. Pictures can speak a thousand words. That is exactly what this picture does. It speaks to the truth of who Fr. Jack was to me.
I had the privilege of meeting Fr. Jack during my orientation to become a Maryknoll lay missioner in 2018. I was known to be a bit chatty and energetic during orientation. I asked a lot of questions and spoke my mind. Rather than pushing my energy and questions away, he welcomed all of it with open arms. He immediately made me feel at ease and accepted me just as I was.
Fr. Jack seemed to make everyone feel this way. He had a way of drawing people in with his kindness, humor, and gentle wisdom. I vividly remember sharing a meal with him and several others during orientation. Our table was full – full of people, full of meaningful conversation, full of joy. During this meal, I looked over at him and asked his thoughts on a controversial topic within the church. Instead of diving directly into his opinion, he humbly went around the table and asked each of us what our opinions were on the matter. That’s the kind of person he was.
Fr. Jack was thoughtful, and he listened to everyone. He maintained a desire to learn from others and he worked for positive change. He never took life too seriously, and he clearly loved a good laugh. He was a uniquely wonderful person, and I am thankful that our paths were able to cross during this lifetime. Rest in eternal peace, Fr. Jack!
courtesy of Maryknoll Archives. Click on the photos.
Father Jack was deeply committed to the role of lay people in mission. I often wondered, especially in the early days of the Lay Mission Program, if he received a lot of criticism from his fellow priests. When we were in orientation in 1977 he told me that another priest had asked him “How are the lay volunteers?” Jack’s response was “I don’t call you a priest volunteer and the lay missioners are fine.” Jack kept that devotion to lay ministry and we were fortunate to have that profound devotion.
As a member of the 1978 class of Lay Missioners, I was so blessed to have been a recipient of Fr. Jack’s loving leadership, guidance and mentorship of our group. With the trinity of leadership of Fr. Jack, Sr. Maryanne, and Chuck Lathrop, we were warmly invited into the life of the Maryknoll communities and missionary work of the church in the world. Fr. Jack was, indeed, a prophetic voice in formation of Lay Missioners, helping to expand church with his truly cosmic view of love expressed in our broken world which is always in process of healing and evolution.
Many years following my lay missionary years in the Philippines, in mid-life, I married a former Maryknoll priest. We were both at mid-life age, and would have no children of our own. Fr. Jack warmly said to me, at that time,
“Families are made in many ways”. He was happy for me that I had found my happiness in my marriage, even though I had to wait quite some time for the love of my life (the former Fr. Jerry Peters)
Thank you, Fr. Jack, for your care for me, for Jerry, and for so many of us. Your spirit remains with us, always.
Fr. Jack was always there for laity in mission. He truly wanted us to bring our whole selves and participate fully in ministry. He had a vision that gave me hope and courage for the future. He and Sr. Maria often worked together and in 2001 I was looking for a chance to do a sabbatical. They were offering a program in the Holy Land and, initially, it was open to all Maryknoll missioners, including laity. I applied but for some reason was not allowed to attend, much to the chagrin of both Jack and Maria. He never stopped being inclusive and encouraging. When I returned to the US in 2018 part of my work was with the Office of Global Concerns and he was always very interested in issues pertaining to the African continent.
I am even more encouraged by reading the testimonies of other missioners who knew him much better than I did. The seeds he has planted will bear fruit one day. I am very grateful for having known him and for all he has given to our world and our lives. Remembering Jack makes me feel hopeful and joyful for the future. Thank you, dear Jack, for all the blessings we have received through you.
Fr. Jack Sullivan has been a cherished friend to me since I came to the lay missioner staff in 1979. His openness of spirit, amazing wit, dedication to justice in all things, and most of all, his loving kindness, was a gift to all who knew him.
Though I grieve along with all of the people who loved him, and there were many, I take comfort in believing that the cosmos shines brighter now and that Jack’s spirit is free to eternally dance.
Just the other day I said to Jack on the phone — I was thinking that you always made lemonade no matter how many lemons you were thrown from people or situations in life – he said, I LIKE THAT! He was “hopeful and curious” about death and when I said God was coming for him in His own time, he said clearly, “YES SHE IS”. Thank you, Jack for the decades of showing us all how to live happy and dedicated lives and for staying connected with all whom you loved.
Fr. Sullivan and Chuck Lathrop were very supportive when Edwina Gateley and
I came to the States to begin the Volunteer Missionary Movement. I will be forever grateful for their support and welcome. Thank you Fr. Jack for opening the doors for many people.
When Joanne and I received the news of Jack’s death, my immediate feeling was one of both sorrow and joy. Sorrowful because the opportunity to see him one more time was gone. Joyful because that is a feeling I so often experienced in his company. I will miss his gift of seeing the ironies in life, his gift of humor, his insights and wisdom. I will miss his ability to make us all feel needed and important for creating communities of faith that in turn create a more just and loving world. His vision of Church was one of invitation and inclusion and was evident in both his words and his actions – and as Chuck already noted, it was a roundtabled church.
I will forever be grateful to Jack and his team for accepting me as a Lay Missioner in the early days (fall of 1977) when, as a group of twelve, we were sent to five different countries. Our lives have been changed for the better forever. Because Jack had willingly accepted yet another assignment as founding and collaborating Director of the newly formed Lay Missioner “Program,” he enabled hundreds of us to say our own “yes” to God’s call to mission.
How could he have foreseen this? Those early steps he took without well-worn pathways to follow were crucial to expanding reciprocal outreach among lay people all over the world! And “Lay Missions” became a new, established reality. Jack’s vision and creativity were boundless, his humor unparalleled, and his dedication to the Gospel message unequivocal throughout his long life. The significance of a life as magnanimous as his can never be measured. May his light shine for all of us to see and remember! Jack, may you experience God’s joy forever!!
I feel you smiling! Yep, we are your legacy! Amazing heart and vision!
My wife, Karen, our three young children, and I first met Father Jack in Lima where we were lay missioners from 1986-89. We had just rented a second floor apartment in Jesus Maria, a rather shabby working class neighborhood. The dreary interior needed a good cleaning and a fresh coat of paint. I told Jack what I was up to and he immediately said, “I’ll join you.” After washing down the walls, I brought him and several gallons of paint to the apartment. He put in an honest day’s labor brightening the living room, kitchen, bedroom and bath with a cheery off-white. By the time we were done — and despite Lima’s typical sunless weather — the place sparkled.
For years afterward, Jack would close his Christmas letter to us with this: “May the peace of Christ be with you, Jack Sullivan, M.M., and painter”
I first met Jack when I was a lay missioner stationed in Thailand in 1983. I was having a very difficult time with my assignment so I went to Hong Kong to meet with Jack. Over the course of a week, Jack helped me get “grounded.” He was funny, practical, loving, and supportive. After that, we kept in touch, exchanging letters and cards. Many years later I was living in Maryland and working in D.C. and I found out that Jack was living right down the road at the Maryknoll house on 16th Street in D.C.! We resumed our in person friendship in 2002. When I told Jack I was going to adopt a baby from Kazakhstan as a single parent, he was as usual, extremely supportive! As soon as my daughter and I were settled back in the U.S. in the Spring of 2003, Jack and Maria Rickelman came to visit and take pictures. “Uncle Jack” and “Aunt Maria” visited us regularly, offering support and love (and little gifts).
I was very moved by other’s comments and resonated with them. Jack was a very unique, Spirit-led person. He listened carefully and had keen insight, both on an individual and community level. In terms of his role in the Catholic Church, he was way ahead of his time. He was a gem! We are sad to say goodbye, but know that his Light and Love live on in all of us who were lucky to know him.
We were in Hong Kong as a family with a young child. Fr. Jack was very kind to our family. We will always remember his gentle kindness and quiet guidance. We miss Fr. Jack.
What a great welcoming smile he had for all.
Jack’s commitment to lay missioners and welcome to women was evident from the very beginning of Lay Mission Program. When I joined Maryknoll in 1976 it was wonderful to have Father Jack , Sister Mary Ann and Chuck Lathrop as the guiding team. Each brought something unique to the leadership of the program. Jack’s enthusiasm and commitment to lay missioners launched a vision of mission and community that lives on. Thank you Jack for your life and inspiration!