A special gift for Donegal
“In my family growing up and especially in my life as a Jesuit, Fr John Sullivan SJ » was always very important to us. It is a consolation to me to know we have a relic here in the Diocese in the Parish of Carrigart.” So said Bishop Alan McGuckian SJ, welcoming the gift of a relic of Blessed John Sullivan SJ to his diocese.
A ceremony of prayers, reflections and music to mark the gifting took place in the Mevagh parish on Sunday 25 June 2023 after the 11.30 am Mass. The relic is a piece of wood from the coffin in which he was buried, at Clongowes Wood College in 1933. The reliquary in which the relic is stored was fabricated by Peter K. Dalton, Goldsmith, Letterkenny.
The Parish Priest, Fr Charlie Byrne explained the story of the relic to those gathered for the event, noting that it was a gift not just to the “Pobal De, Paroiste Miodhbhadh” (the people of God, Mevagh parish) but also to “the people of Donegal, to the Dioceses of Raphoe and Derry and to those who strive for the canonisation of Blessed John.” There have been a number of healings associated with the relic.
“The relic here is a piece of wood,” said Fr Byrne, “and its significance is that it was part of his coffin where his mortal remains were placed when he died in the old St. Vincent’s Hospital on Leeson St. There they remained buried in the graveyard at Clongowes until the morning of 27 February 1961when the Minister for Justice gave his approval for the exhumation of those remains.”
The PP went on to explain how a group of Gardai were detailed to ensure safety and privacy for the exhumation. (The remains were to be moved, by popular public demand, in another coffin, (see photo) to the Jesuit church in Gardiner St in the center of Dublin, where it is to this day, visited by people from all over the world.)
It was a very cold day. In the afternoon party was a young Garda, Donal O’Sullivan, who had visited the site several times at the request of his mother. The coffin was not exactly where the records indicated so a piece of wood was hacked off the coffin before the exhumation was stopped and recommenced at a slight remove. Eventually, the coffin was raised and placed in a hearse. Donal was an official witness of the opening of the coffin in the College chapel; to the verification that the skeletal remains; to the placing of the body in a new coffin.
He also preserved, in the deep pocket of his heavy overcoat, the piece of the coffin which had been broken off during the initial attempt at exhumation.
The event transformed his life. Although he rose to the rank of Chief Superintendent Tralee, he devoted much of his free time to promoting the cause of John Sullivan, through writing and giving talks. Many Gardai assisted him.
Fr Charlie went on to express his gratitude to Donal O’Sullivan on behalf of those gathered. “We thank especially Donal for this relic We pray for him and ask God to bless his life and extended family. We pray for the many Gardaí who also worked for the same cause and pray that God will bless them.” He also asked for prayers for the McBride and McFadden families through whom the relic was gifted.
He also noted the significance of the date for the gifting ceremony. “Today is noli timere Sunday,” he said. “Do not be afraid” Sunday. In the reading from the book of Jeremiah, the prophet he speaks of terror from all sides. The psalmist prays ‘in your great love answer me O Lord’. And in the gospel, Jesus tells us ‘Do not be afraid’, adding that the very hairs on our heads have been counted. His reassurance should be of great comfort to us.”
The parish priest went on to describe how in the last decades of his life John Sullivan visited the sick and distressed. “He walked, and cycled on his old, battered bike; often cycling 20 miles or more in sun and rain. There are stories of bilocation. To some he brought cures but to all he brought comfort. As Pope Francis put it in his apostolic letter for the Beatification of Blessed John, he was a ‘witness of the love of Christ towards the poor and distressed.'”
After the gifting ceremony finished the relic was brought to the adjacent parish hall for closer viewing by parishioners. Also on display were copies of the Papal Bull of Pope Francis and other prayers, photos, and records related to Blessed John Sullivan SJ.