Local Religious life

Father O’Sullivan remembered for a robust faith, and a ministry of ‘less is more’

Father Pete  O’Sullivan, pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Paola, died on Oct. 9. SCREENSHOT FROM HOLY TRINITY PARISH, PAOLA

by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Father Peter Glenn O’Sullivan was not one to sweat the small stuff. An easy-going man, he put essential things first.

For example, Father Joe Chontos likes to recount how Father O’Sullivan handled a Palm Sunday predicament.

“I’ve got a liturgical question,” said Father O’Sullivan while they were having lunch. “Do you have to have palms for Palm Sunday?”

Something went wrong with the parish’s order of palms, and they weren’t going to be delivered on time.

After some discussion, Father O’Sullivan said, “I think I’ll just skip it. We’ll have Mass and just make it work.”

“That’s a different response than I would have given,” admitted Father Chontos, chaplain at the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex in Topeka. “Others would have panicked.”

But not Father Pete.

Father O’Sullivan was most concerned about the spirit of the law, confirmed Father Bill Porter, pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Roeland Park.

“I liked his honesty and his simple approach to ministry and life,” said Father Porter. “He had a good way of seeing what was most important. Those were the things he took care of.”

Father Francis Hund, who anointed him only a few days before his death, described it as a “ministry of less is more.”

“He wasn’t one to give lengthy homilies,” said Father Hund, but instead liked to move things along. Even at the end.

 “As I was opening the book to do more prayers,” said Father Hund, “[Father Pete] tapped the book.

“I knew that meant, ‘Let’s just not make this very lengthy.’”

“So, we prayed the anointing prayer in the ‘less is more’ style,” said Father Hund.

Father O’Sullivan, 65, died from cancer on Oct. 9 at St. Luke’s Hospice House in Kansas City, Missouri. He was pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Paola.

Father O’Sullivan was born on Dec. 23, 1955, in Kansas City, Missouri, the youngest of the four children of James F. and Margaret R. (Hargis) O’Sullivan and attended St. Joseph School in Shawnee.

He went on to attend St. Joseph High School, and then Washburn University in Topeka on a football scholarship. There, he studied math, history and education with a plan to teach and coach.

An injury ended his sports career, however, so he finished his degree at Avila University in Kansas City, Missouri, and then spent the next two years in the U.S. Marine Corps. While attending daily Mass during that time, he discerned a call to the priesthood.

From 1979 to 1980 he attended St. Thomas Seminary in Denver for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. He then transferred to be closer to his ailing father and graduated with a master’s degree in theology from St. Louis University.

He was ordained a deacon on June 19, 1982, and then a priest by Archbishop Ignatius J. Strecker on June 4, 1983, at St. Joseph Church in Shawnee.

During his 38 years of priesthood, Father O’Sullivan served in nine parishes and — an educator after all — taught in several schools.

But at the heart of his priesthood was a ministry of presence.

“Time and again, I witnessed him quietly helping the poor, sick, elderly, youth and even fellow priests in need,” said Bill Farrington, formerly a parishioner of Christ the King Parish in Topeka.

“There were countless times he canceled his personal plans to drive several hours to administer last rites, visit the sick or lonely or even the graves of former past parishioners . . . even if they were from a parish where he’d been assigned 20 years ago. He always did what was right, not what was easy,” said Farrington.

“I can’t tell you how many people over the years,” recalled his niece Debbie Moeller, “upon finding out I was his niece, would say, ‘He brought me back into the church’; ‘I was lost and he really helped me’; and ‘I just love his sermons — I always get something out of them.’

“You know, people just really liked him. And I think it was because he really liked people, helping people, in a very relatable way that was really welcoming.”

Father O’Sullivan was instrumental in bringing an order of Mexican Sisters to St. Catherine Parish in Emporia to serve the mostly Hispanic parishioners, said Jim Muckenthaler, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Emporia. Father O’Sullivan had gotten to know the Sisters who were serving at Maur Hill-Mount Academy in Atchison, so he went to Mexico City to plead with their superior for help.

“He told the archbishop, ‘I don’t know any Spanish, and I don’t know what to do, but I’m willing to help in any way I can,’” said Father Chontos.

His pronunciation was atrocious, and his accent even worse.

“Father O’Sullivan celebrated the Mass as best he could, reading in Spanish, with the Sisters translating the homily,” said Father Chontos. “He only knew enough to get by.”

“But the people loved him,” he added, “and thought he was really wonderful.

“He communicated with the language of love.”


Father O’Sullivan was preceded in death by his parents. He is survived by sisters Janet Cawley and Margaret O’Sullivan, brother Jim O’Sullivan and 14 nephews and nieces. Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann was the main celebrant, and Father Bill Porter was the homilist, at the Mass of Christian Burial on Oct. 18 at St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee. Father O’Sullivan was buried next to his parents and grandparents at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Raytown, Missouri.

The family suggests memorial donations to the Catholic high schools Bishop Miege, Bishop Ward, Maur Hill-Mount Academy, or Hayden,  and to the nuns of the Missioneras Guadalupanas de Cristo Rey at 205 S. Lawrence St., Emporia, KS 66801.

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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1 Comment

  • To: Joe –
    A really nice write up about Fr. Pete.
    As Fr. Mark knows I was the receptionist at Assumption Church in Topeka.
    Fr. Pete slept in the living-room(because the of couch & Fr. Moran’s red reclining chair better on his back)of the Assumption Rectory. Because of his back injury playing football at Washburn. He was always losing is car keys or his can of Copenhagen snuff. He would ask me if saw them I would tell no, but just lift the recliner up and you’ll find them. Sure enough 9 times out of 10 times that’s were they would be on floor.
    Fr. Pete and I had a discussion on priests getting married. I said in my opinion the Pope and Cardinals and Bishops. Should allow the priests to marry because some of the disciples were married. He said yes some disciples were married. And if the Pope wants more priests he will eventually have to give is approval.
    Please tell Fr. Mark. That Jean and her cat Sweet Pea says have a great week. And 26 days until he is 66 years young!!!! LOL