Interview with Fr. Bill Sullivan, O.S.A.

Patrick Murphy: Hello everyone.  This is Patrick Murphy with the Augustinians.  Today I am here with Father Bill Sullivan.  Father Bill is the associate pastor of St. Jude Parish in New Lenox, Illinois and he has held a variety of different ministries across the Midwest province over the course of his time as an Augustinian.

Father Bill, it is a pleasure to have you with us.

Fr. Bill Sullivan, O.S.A.: It's nice to be with you, Patrick, Thank you. 

Murphy: Well, I like to ask the friars, as a first question, Father Bill, what was it that called you to be an Augustinian?

Sullivan: Well, when I was in high school, I went to Mendel High School, which was administered by the Augustinians and at that time there were a number of young priests who were very attractive in the sense that they did a good job.  They were close to the students.  They were interested in the students.  You could talk to them.  They were very approachable and they were very spiritual men.  They were dedicated to the students, but dedicated also, even as students, I'm not sure we completely understood it; but dedicated to spiritual life.  I saw that and thought, "Oh, this might be a good way to live your life, to dedicate it to this kind of an ideal."  To tell you the truth, Patrick, when I started I thought that I would be a teacher my whole life.  I'm ordained 47 years and I think I've spent just about seven years in the classroom.

Murphy: Oh, my!

Sullivan: So God had other things in mind for me. 

Murphy: But it's been quite the journey, you know, you've definitely been brought across the province in a variety of different apostolates.

Sullivan: I have, yeah.  Well, for example, I'm here at St. Jude's for 16 years, which is ... I've never lived anywhere else in my life nearly that long.  I started off in a parish, St. Clare's in Grosse Point Park and I can remember a couple other parishes I did school work for.  I spent about eight years.  I did a lot of formation seminary work.  I was in seminary work for about 22 and I was at Villanova for eight, St. Louis for two.  I was at St. John Stone Friary when that was the Theologate program, I guess, 12 years.  All that time at Villanova I was the director.  I was Director of Novices, but at the friary I was on the team.  I was one of the members of a three-year four-person team that was in charge of the formation of the students, so as a result I know a lot of the students.  I was also in provincial administration for seven years as the director of personnel; and I've been one of the provincial advisers for 22 or 23 years.  I forgot how long.  I'd have to sit down and figure out.  I've also had a hospital ministry when I was teaching at Mendel during the early 70s.  During the summertime, I was at Little Company of Mary Hospital as a chaplain; and when I left the personnel job in 1997, for two years I was chaplain at Little Company.  Then, in 1999 I came here.  I'm sorry, in 1998 I came here and at 1996-1998, I was chaplain at Little Company. 

I've been in just about everything.  I've been to Peru, when I was on the provincial staff.  A couple times I went down there, one time on visitation with Father Ryan and one time Father Brecht had just come back from there on visitation and they were doing something.  They wanted the counselors or the provincial and Father Brecht asked me to go so I went down there.  So, I've seen pretty much everything we've got.  I've worked in parishes and taught high schools.  I been in formation work.  I visited the missions.  I've done a lot of stuff.  Now, I've stayed in parish work the last 16 years. It's very satisfying work and I'm very happy to be doing it.

Murphy: Well, you have such a big perspective of all the different ministries of the Augustinians. 

Sullivan: Yeah.

Murphy: What would you say the role is of the Augustinian Order today?

Sullivan: I can tell you, Patrick.  In parishes I think one of the things, and people tell me this:  the staff we have here, for example, they make people feel comfortable.  In other words, they feel very free to approach us and one of the characteristics of the Order is to form a community.  I think we're doing that here.  I think the fellows in school work - I think they do the same thing with the young people that we serve as teachers and administrators.  I think we try to draw people together into a community.  I've heard, for example, fellows from Rita and Mendel and even from Providence who say that they're grateful that they had an Augustinian education.  Again, they felt cared for.  They felt that these fellows - the way that I felt as a high school student - that these fellows really cared for them.  They were available to them when they needed them. 

The same thing is true of the parish and the foreign missions. Our guys have done marvelous work in the foreign missions. One of the interesting things about the foreign missionaries is a couple of them told me that they went down there thinking that they were going to help the people of Peru, but said you're not down there very long when you realize that they're the ones influencing you by the simplicity of their lives. 

Murphy: Yeah.

Sullivan: They really are... they really are something.  So, I think in all of that, I think the Augustinian charism of community-building, of trust, of extension to people where they need us all in a spiritual context, I think that's what I would say is characteristic of what our men do.

Murphy: The next question I have here after hearing you say that might seem a bit silly, but we're asking it of everybody in these interviews.  Then, you believe that the Augustinian are still relevant in today's society. 

Sullivan: Oh, sure, absolutely.  In fact, I think especially in today's society.  You know, so very often the values that people hold onto with better acceptance are secular.  It's true.  That's true; and if you can show people that the vow of poverty, so what we should be doing is living simply.  You don't kneed a lot of things or you don't need... You know, a lot of the young people, their lives can be pretty sensual - but you don't need that.  You can arrive at happiness and fulfillment without that kind of stuff.  I think the kind of witness that a friar gives today for something like that, I don't think it's ever been needed any more than it is now.  I think it's very relevant, yeah, absolutely.

Murphy: Okay.  Well, another thing that we're talking about in these interviews focuses on the Continuing Our Journey of Faith capital campaign.  I know that you're involved with our campaign as well.  You're one of our vice-chairs.

Sullivan: Yep.

Murphy: The campaign, you know, it helps to build funds for the Father Ray Ryan Trust for formations and vocations as well as the Journey of a Lifetime Trust for retired and infirm friars. 

Sullivan: Yeah.

Murphy: With these two causes, why do you think the campaign is particularly important right now?

Sullivan: Well, of course, we're very fortunate and I think a lot of it is due to the work of Father Tom McCarthy.  We've got a number of candidates and you know that costs money today. CTU is a graduate school and it costs the same as any graduate school; and these fellows all live the vow of poverty, so they get room and board from us.  So, in terms of the Father Ray Ryan Trust, that's what we're trying to do, trying to raise funds in order that we can support these guys.  We also have some fellows at Villanova and we have some guys at the novitiate.  So, it's important that we raise money in order to sustain their lifestyles, which are very simple, but still costly. 

I think in terms of the Augustinians, all these men...  In fact, my community, we just went out and visited them last Friday at Crown Point and you've got guys who have been in the Order for 60-65 years and have served with distinction.  A lot of them never got any accolades for it.  They didn't expect it, but the least I think we can do for them, in terms of what they've done, the way they've served the Church community/Order as Augustinians, we can at least give them a retirement or a place where they can have the basics of food and shelter and stuff like that.  That's why I'm happy to give my time to those things.  I just think these fellows deserve that with retirement. I'm practically not to far from that myself, you know, so... (laughter) God has given me good health to be able to work here for this long and I'll do it as long as I can as long as God gives me the physical health to do it.  I'm 73.  We have 4,800 families here and Pastor is 71, Father Donald Lewandowski and now we just got Father Homero Sanchez.  He's a great blessing for us.  He's young.  He's 29.  He's enthused and he's generous with his time, anything that people need him for. 

As long as we can work and we can find it refreshing as I think we all do, we're going to stay on the job, but for our other fellows who feel that they're tired and they need to go someplace where they can just reflect and pray and have free time, they've given their life to the Order; and they deserve that, I think.

Murphy: Yeah, yeah.  Well, one other friar I know that served at St. Jude for many years was Father Ray Ryan who we just recently mentioned.  Knowing you Father, I know that you were very close with Father Ray before he passed; and you wrote a great article on why the trust was named after him.

Sullivan: Mhm.

Murphy: Would you be willing to recap for the listener that might not have read that, why you think it's appropriate that we name that trust after him?

Sullivan: Patrick, he was Provincial for three terms during some of the most tumultuous years in the Church and he was a kindly guy who was very approachable.  He gave what we would have called service leadership.  In other words, he was a servant of the men that he.. which St. Augustus said in the Rule.  Of the men he led, he was a servant.  He did a lot of work in formation.  He was an extraordinary guy in that he had very keen insights into people.  He had enough where he would encourage young guys.

For example, suppose he saw a guy and said, "I don't think this guy would be happy with us."  He had enough insight to talk to the guy and they guy would say, "You know, Father Ray, you're right.  This is not something that I think that I would be satisfied doing."  He was good at that; and the guy would leave satisfied, not angry at the Order and not angry at anybody, because Father Ray was a kindly man and I say with very keen insights. 

He was a lot of fun.  He was a magnificent guy.  Every community that he went into, you could count on the fact that there would be parties.  He always loved to have these parties. I don't know--well, I do know where he got them, party hats the little things that you pulled and they popped out a message and things like that.  Every place he went, he did that.  It was funny.  Some of the tough guys, he got to wear party hats.  I don't know how he did it, but they knew that he was a good guy.  They knew he was working to make the community better and happier.  I don't know anyplace where he worked with students or as a Prior in support of the community that those guys didn't like him; and if he had to leave, they were very sad when he did.  He was just a very Christ-like man, very approachable, very concerned about people.  I think that's why he was such a good...  We call them "form leaders."  That's why he was so good at it, because he had keen Christ-like insights.  It wasn't just, you know, this guy is a good bowler.  No, no, it was that this guy seems good with people or he knew that this guy had a spiritual dimension to him that many people didn't have; Ray could see that in people and he was very very good at it. 

When I was a student I went to him and he was my spiritual director for a couple years.  He was superb, just excellent in terms of...

Murphy: Is that something like the movement that Pope Francis is talking about a lot, which is living out the joy of the Gospel, that if you live out what the Gospel is trying to get across, the joy and the happiness just comes naturally, organically through the love in your heart. 

Sullivan: That's exactly who he was.  I think, Patrick... In fact, he told me before he died that he loved this pope.  He said he's a very personal guy.  He addresses people, really, where they live and where some of the popes, and it was their personality, they would address more the intellect.  This Pope Francis, which Ray did, he addressed the heart.  I think that's why he was such an extraordinary guy in our Province.  We won't seen see his like again. That's why it was such a loss to us, although he lived a full life; and he was ill and he was not going to get better, so I'm sure he's with the Lord right now and praying for the rest of us.  I hope he is. (laughter)  I'm actually quite sure when I say that. 

Murphy: Sure, sure.  Well, father with all of your experience, not only as an Augustinian, but also being an Augustinian formator, do you have any advice for those that are currently discerning a religious vocation? 

Sullivan: Yeah.  I would say, first of all, get somebody who you trust, who you can talk to.  Now that would be good if it could be an Augustinian.  There are several men around who would be very good to talk to.  Talk to them. Take it up with them.  If you're a pre-college student, we send young men out to Villanova.  We give scholarship to go out there, so they don't lose anything by going there.  They can try it and see how it fits.  We have men out there who are trained to work with them and give them feedback.  I think we've got four young men out there right now and, of course, praying that goes without saying, prayer, regular participation in the Eucharist, Sundays and other days; but also to talk to somebody. 

I think all of us, I certainly did, when we were younger we felt like, "Well, gee, I'm not worthy of this."  Father Jack Gavin who just passed away in February was one of the honorees at the gala.  One of the things that he said on this little televised thing that they did for each of the honorees... Jack said that he put down on the paper and told the sister, "I'd like to be a priest, but I'm not good enough."  Luckily the sister read it.  She pulled him aside and she said, "Jack, nobody's good enough."  She said, "Try it," and Jack Gavin was a priest for 50-some years.  And I'm telling you:  he was good enough!  The thing was if Jack Gavin had not gone in because he thought he wasn't worthy of it, the Church would have suffered a real loss.  He was a wonderful man and he was a wonderful priest and Augustinian.  He too was cut from the same cloth as Father Ray Ryan.  That's what I would say.  That's what I would think, Patrick.  Talk it over with somebody.  Sit down and talk.  Because most of the priests, or maybe a brother, or maybe a sister, or maybe a layperson that you know, they're not going to push you into something if they don't think you belong there.  I would never do that, and I don't think any of us would.  It needs to the be person's choice and they need to be comfortable with it. 

We just sent a young man from our parish, a young man named Sam Joutras who finished college, but he's doing to do some graduate work at Villanova in philosophy.  We talked to Sam.  We had him over to our houses a couple times for dinner.  He was comfortable with us.  Is he going to finish and be a priest?  I don't know.  I hope he does.  I know he's a fine young man, but that will have to be seen after he goes through a number of stages of formation.  As I said, I hope he stays. I think he'd be terrific, but that's the Lord's choice, not ours. 

Murphy: Yeah.

Sullivan: So, as I say, pray about it, but also get some advice about it like any choice in life.  If you're going to make a good choice, it's always best to ask somebody who is in the know about that stuff.  That's what I would say, Patrick.

Murphy: That's great advice, Father.  Thanks a lot. I'm hoping that some people are listening to that right now and, maybe, they're moved to just reach out to somebody or take an extra leap of faith. 

Sullivan: I'll tell you what, Patrick, if any of them are in the general vicinity of St. Jude's, I'd be more than happy to talk to them. Just to sit down.  I'm not going to lay a heavy arm on anybody. That's not my style and I wouldn't like that, but just to talk to them.  Just to talk to them, "What are you thinking about?  Are you thinking about this?  When you think about priests or religious life, what do you think?  How does it make you feel?"  You know, go from there.  I can tell you, I've been a priest 47 years and I think I'm a religious for 54, 55, something like that, I forget.  Whatever 1960 was, that's 54 years.  I'd do the same thing again.  It's a good way to live your life.  You're enabled to do a lot of good for people and you do it in a context that's very spiritual.  Hopefully, in the context... Interesting thing is, it's like the missionaries.  You think you're helping people.  I can tell you I've learned an enormous amount from people who come to me for one thing or another and I've learned and learned respect from them in terms of the cross that some people carry and are filled with faith and it challenges me to be more faithful, and to be a better not just a priest and Augustinian, but a better human being.

Murphy: Hmm.  Thank you very much, again, for sharing Father.  Those are all great insights.

Sullivan: Okay, Patrick, any time and let me just repeat that thing I said a moment ago.  If you've got any young people who are in the general area, and I mean the general area and they want to talk about this, call me and I'd be glad, at anytime, to sit down and talk. 

Murphy: If anyone is listening, anyone of the province offices would be happy to put you two in touch

Sullivan: Yes.

Murphy: You can also find more about St. Jude online.  I believe it's  It's right there in New Lenox [Illinois]. 

Sullivan: Yeah. 

Murphy: Now, before I let you go, father. I do have one more question. 

Sullivan: Yeah.

Murphy: For the people listening and want to promote more vocations and care for the men in retirement, why should other people consider a gift to the capital campaign?

Sullivan: Let me say that it helps so much.  But, I send something for the retirement and something for the missions, because I believe in it, and certainly for the retirement, because as I say these are our men. These are my brothers and I know what they've done.  I know what they've done.  I know the efforts that they've expended.  I know many of them have done things that nobody will ever recognize in terms of publicity, but they don't want it.  They didn't do it for that reason and they don't expect it.  But, I could tell you that if you listed the things that they've done, the list would be very, very, very long; and these men are... The surroundings in which they live are very simple.  They're very adequate, but they're very simple.  There's not any luxurious stuff and I just think anybody who helps these men will be blessed.

Murphy: Okay.  It's been a pleasure to speak with you again, Father Bill.  For anybody that wants more information on the campaign, there's plenty more here at or you can contact Campaign Director, Michael Gerrity at 773-595-4035 or if you want to reach out to Father Bill Sullivan to talk about vocations, you can find his contact information at or reach out to anybody, here, in the province offices and we'll be happy to put you two in touch. 

Thank you, again, Father Bill for taking the call.  I know you're busy.  So, we'll let you get to it.

Sullivan: Never to busy for this, Patrick. Thank you.  Thank you very very much.  We'll be seeing you soon.

Murphy: All right.  Take care, Father.

Sullivan: Okay, Patrick.

Posted on November 25, 2014 and filed under Bill Sullivan O.S.A..