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Simply a priest, a good and faithful priest

Archbishop Wenski's homily at funeral Mass for Father Michael P. Sullivan

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the funeral Mass for Father Michael P. Sullivan, 84, former pastor of Our Lady of Mercy in Deerfield Beach, and Blessed Sacrament in Fort Lauderdale. The Mass was celebrated Sept. 19, 2022, at Our Lady of Mercy.

Today, my dear parishioners of Our Lady of Mercy, we gather to pray for the repose of the soul of a priest who served as your pastor for almost a decade. And, although he retired almost 20 years ago, that so many of you do remember him speaks well of his pastoral service to this parish. I am sure that you know that this stained-glass window was designed by Father Sullivan. His younger brother, Patrick, who has been part of this parish for a quarter of a century, was the one who installed it.

Today, we extend to Patrick and to his siblings and to Father Michael’s nieces and nephews our condolences. Father Michael joins four of his siblings who predeceased him. He was part of a large Catholic family: 14 brothers and sisters, all of whom grew up in St. Rose of Lima Parish in Miami Shores.

The Church of Miami is grateful to the Sullivan family for the gift of this man to the priesthood. He served the Church well in several parish assignments – from Naples in what is now the Diocese of Venice to Jensen Beach, Stuart and Riviera Beach in what is now the Diocese of Palm Beach.

An old hymn has these words: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.”

It is in that “blessed assurance” that we find an approach to grieving that brings peace and healing – rather than the despair of those who grieve without faith.

This blessed assurance is manifested in the prayer of the Church and that prayer both reflects and shapes the faith of the entire Church according to the principle, lex orandi, lex credenti. For example, in the Preface of the Dead, we pray, "Lord, for your faithful people, life is changed, not ended."

And in the Apostles’ Creed, probably the most ancient catechesis of the Church, we say:

I believe in the Holy Spirit
the holy Catholic Church
the communion of saints
the forgiveness of sins
the resurrection of the body
and life everlasting.

This communion of saints unites all the baptized – those who are saints in heaven, the holy souls on their way of purgation to heaven, and we the living here on earth. We are all united around Jesus’ cross and resurrection – around the Paschal Mystery that is made present in and through this eucharistic celebration. And so, in that communion of saints, we pray for Father Sullivan, and we pray for all those who grieve at his passing.

Some of the older priests here could recall the things he did over 56 years of priesthood spent in the service of Christ here in Florida. Father Kidney St. Jean would often help him with Masses for the Canadian winter visitors.

Rather than list the accomplishments and the assignments of this man, rather than enumerate his virtues, or kid about his shortcomings, let it suffice just for us to say: Michael Sullivan was simply a priest, a good and faithful priest.

Of course, Father Sullivan, like each of these men here, carried the immense treasure of his priesthood in earthen vessels and so we invoke God’s loving mercy on his soul and ask for him the joy and peace of eternal life in the communion of the most Blessed Trinity. As priests we know our own human frailty, and so we are not shy in asking for prayers for him – and when we die, we beg your prayers for us, confident that the love of Jesus Christ who gave us the gift of the priesthood is stronger than death.

For the priests here, it is a special bond that unites us to Michael Sullivan, a priestly bond of solidarity and communion. This special bond is also “stronger than death” – for we were ordained like Melchizedek of old, priests forever.

We pray confidently, comforted by the words of St. Paul: “If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we persevere, we shall also reign with him.” In gratitude for his faith, his long years of priestly service, and his perseverance in his vocation, we commend him to Mary, the mother of all priests, whom we invoke as Queen of the Apostles.

One song that occasionally we can sing has the refrain: We remember, we celebrate, we believe. Today, as we offer this Mass for Father Michael, we, too, remember, we celebrate, we believe.

Eternal Rest grant unto him, O Lord! May his soul and the soul of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.