Local Parishes Religious life

An instrument of God’s grace

by Joe Bollig

Patrick Sullivan knew what he wanted when he grew up: a badge and a gun. He wanted to be a police officer.

“I never, never really thought about being a priest,” said Deacon Sullivan.

“I never thought about it. I wanted to be married,” he continued. “I thought I’d have a nine-to-five career. The main thing I wanted to do was be a police officer.”

OK, maybe “never.”

There was one time when he was about seven or eight years old. It was a Sunday and he was sick, so his parents went to Mass and he stayed home. So, he decided to set up a TV tray as his “altar,” break open a can of Pringles for his “hosts,” and celebrate his own “Mass.”

But that was the last inkling of a priestly vocation — until he was 29.

While he was growing up, Sullivan’s family went to St. John Francis Regis Church in Kansas City, Mo. He then attended Archbishop O’Hara High School in Kansas City, Mo. After graduation, when most of his peers went off to college, he worked as an evidence technician with the Kansas City, Mo., Police Department for four years.

Although he went on to apply to one suburban Kansas City area police department after another, he was turned down by each one. A police officer friend told him why: It was because Deacon Sullivan is an insulin-dependent diabetic.

“You can’t call time-out in the middle of a car chase or a hostage situation because your blood sugar is low,” he said.

The news was a deep disappointment to Sullivan, but he accepted it philosophically and began taking evening college courses while working at other jobs. Eventually, he got a degree in information systems technology and took a job at American Century Mutual Funds.

“I loved it,” he said. “I absolutely loved my job. I loved the people there. I was making good money. American Century was one of the top 100 companies to work for, five years in a row.”

Sullivan was well on his way up the corporate ladder, when a friend tossed him a curve ball. He invited him to go on Cursillo, the “short course in Christianity.”

“I’d fallen away from the church from the middle of high school to my late 20s,” he said. “I never renounced the faith, but I simply didn’t care. I had more important things to do — my career, the things of this world.”

Those four days of Cursillo were like a four-day “road to Damascus” for the young businessman. He experienced a profound conversion and came away with a thirst to learn more about his faith and to live it more actively. He returned to Mass, undertook RCIA and eucharistic ministry to the sick and homebound, and began eucharistic adoration. And though he met and dated a lovely woman, they soon both realized they were not meant to be together.

Sullivan was at a crossroads and something seemed to be beckoning him.

“I remember being at home, watching TV, thinking, ‘If everything you do regarding the church — and all the stuff you’re reading — brings you so much happiness in life, why not make it your life’s work?’” he said.

All of a sudden the realization hit him: He was thinking about becoming a priest.

Oh. My. Gosh. Next stop, the archdiocesan vocations director.

“For a long time [the priesthood] was kind of a romanticized ideal. I never really thought I’d do it, because I had a fear of the many aspects about it that I thought I couldn’t do or wasn’t worthy,” he said. “It took a while, but I did eventually enter the seminary.”

And now Deacon Sullivan will be ordained a priest at 10:30 a.m. on May 23 at Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa. He’s excited about celebrating the sacraments … andmore.

“The thing we were taught in seminary, above and beyond all the books on theology, is just to be there for people,” said Deacon Sullivan.

“To have a ministry of presence for people when they need you the most, in the good times and bad… to be an instrument of God’s grace is really mind-boggling,” he concluded.

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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