Fr. Paul Sullivan, SJ

Fr. Paul Sullivan, SJ, pastor of Our Lady of Hope parish in Portland, Maine, is no stranger to leading a parish. This is the fourth time that he has served as a pastor - twice previously in Maine and once in Connecticut. As he embarks on his 19th year as a pastor, Fr. Sullivan considers each parish a new experience and still sees himself learning the ropes of this important role. 

Our Lady of Hope is a Jesuit parish, how is that identity visible beyond having a Jesuit pastor? 

I sense that the most visible Jesuit ideal is our aim to find God in all things. The spiritual life is not something apart from ordinary life, but integral to it. This belief in an incarnational spirituality is most present in the way we practice our faith here, as the underlying foundation of the preaching and basic approach of our work. There is also a generosity of spirit, visible in the example and approachability of the Jesuits who have served here over the years. And, perhaps most externally visible, our dedication to education and the service of youth – primarily in the Jesuit commitment to Cheverus High School. Fr. Jack Fagan, SJ, community superior, and I have assisted in the retreat programs at the school. Additionally, Fr. Fagan, parish staff member Fr. Richard Bertrand, SJ, and I regularly assist with the daily morning Mass at Cheverus.

How do you introduce people who are not familiar with the Society, to Jesuit ideals?

 
The broadest way that I present the Society is through my homilies, which draw on Ignatian spirituality. For example, in a homily revolving around prayer, I might speak about how one can pray the Examen. Talking about Pope Francis, our Jesuit pope, who he is and what he says, also offers many opportunities to call attention to the Society’s vision. Last fall, we ran a multipart bulletin series on Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’. We also try to draw attention to the various works of the Society around the world. The nativist rhetoric of some parts of the 2016 presidential campaign has been disheartening and to address that we have talked about ministries like the Jesuit Refugee Service and their work with those in need.

How do you want to build on the work of your predecessors and advance the mission of Our Lady of Hope?

I am fortunate to come to a parish where there has already been much good work and pastoral care of parishioners. Despite this, the past several years have been rough for the parish. A great deal of time and energy were taken up with the process of parish clustering, a fact of life for all parishes here in Maine. Our Lady of Hope is a combination of what had been three parishes. One of our three churches was closed, sold and ultimately torn down. That caused a great deal of pain and suffering for many people. 

Our mission now is to continue to welcome everyone here to this new reality, to turn our attention to the existing ministries of the parish, and to explore the possibility of the Spirit calling us in new directions. A key hope and desire for me is to make our outlook and programing more explicitly and consciously Ignatian. There remains a great deal to be done, but step by step I’d like to see us move in the direction, offering more opportunities to learn and practice prayer, days of reflection and retreat, and opportunities for spiritual direction.

Fr. Sullivan and students from St. Brigid’s School pose for a photo after a Mass for the grammar school.

It will be a process and will take time. Another personal desire of mine is to focus some time and attention on the way we celebrate liturgy and also to increase the creative use of the gifts and talents of parishioners. Our Lady of Hope parish sponsors St. Brigid’s School, a primary school serving students from the age of three through the eighth grade. Their principal, Bill Burke, a Cheverus High School alumnus, and I are both seeking ways to bring the Jesuit educational ideals to this vibrant school. 

How has the Society shaped you as a man for others?

Well, I first came into contact with the Society when I was a student at the College of the Holy Cross. The example and friendship of the men there drew me to the novitiate following graduation. Jesuit Fr. Dan Lewis, my novice master, was especially interested in the role of Jesuits as those who serve others. I distinctly remember him saying in one conference that “there is nothing beneath our dignity to do in serving others.” That was also the period when Father General Pedro Arrupe, SJ, delivered his famous address in 1973, “Men for Others.” This was a founding principle of Jesuit education which, coupled with the Jesuit meeting, General Congregation 32, led to great and sometimes heated discussion in Jesuit communities about the Society’s role in the service of faith and promotion of justice. 

What are some of your favorite books about Ignatian spirituality?

 
When I read it, I found Jesuit Fr. Jim Martin’s The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything to be a great refresher and reminder of some things I had forgotten or not thought about in a long time. I’ve recommended it to a good number of retreatants, parishioners and others seeking to know more about Jesuit spirituality and Jesuit life in general. Jesuit Fr. Bill Barry’s books on prayer have also been helpful to me, and again a resource I have often recommended to others. Louis Savary’s The New Spiritual Exercises enriched the way I appreciate and tell others about the Examen and its focus on the grace in our lives. And while it is not Ignatian per se, there is a delightful little book Off The Record Conversation – Jesus and Peter by the composer, writer and minister John Bell, of the ecumenical Christian Iona community in Scotland, and his colleague, Graham Maule. I have connections to that community and find this book a clever presentation of the idea of imagination in prayer and the kind of realistic conversation Ignatius encourages us to have with Jesus. Bell and Maule also give us a Jesus with a sharp sense of humor, something not always present in our images of Jesus.

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