He held one of the highest ecclesiastical offices in the Roman Catholic Church — but perhaps the most lasting memory Monsignor John Joseph Sullivan left with the residents of his own hometown was that all people — regardless of race, religion, education or socio-economic standing — should work together for a mutual feeling of love, peace and understanding.
Born May 28, 1926, Sullivan attended Tooele Central and Junior High schools. He left Tooele at the end of his sophomore year to attend Saint Joseph’s College in Mountain View, Calif. At that time, Saint Joseph’s was a minor seminary which included four years of high school and two years of college level training.
Sullivan later attended St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, Calif. He was ordained a priest in the Cathedral of the Madeleine on May 13, 1951.
During his youth, Sullivan worked as a paper boy for the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin. He also worked as a water boy on a construction crew at Tooele Army Depot. And while he was attending seminary in California, Sullivan would return to Tooele each summer to work on a track gang at the Tooele Smelter.
Before coming back in 1970 to serve as leader of Saint Marguerite’s Parish, Sullivan served as pastor at Saint Olaf Parish in Bountiful, Bingham Canyon and Copperton, and at Saint Patrick’s in Salt Lake City.
Peggy Abbot Martinez served as secretary at Tooele’s Saint Marguerite’s Parish for 24 years.
She said the seven years she worked with Monsignor Sullivan are among her fondest memories. And in fact, Peggy’s parents, Joseph and Catherine Abbot, were Sullivan’s godparents.
“Monsignor Sullivan knew how to laugh and have a good time, but he always demanded respect,” Peggy said. “For example, if someone got up and left the chapel during Mass, he would say, ‘Take your seat. This is not a theater; it is a church.’”
Father Matthew Wixted who currently presides over Saint Marguerite’s Parish, said Monsignor Sullivan was extremely instrumental in bringing the people of Tooele County together. Wixted said that when Sullivan first returned to Tooele as a Catholic leader, there was intense tension between Hispanics and whites who were called “Cowboys.”
Martinez remembers the day that Monsignor Sullivan attended an assembly at Tooele High School and stood up and told the students, “We want justice for everyone.” She said those in the auditorium that day responded to Sullivan’s words by giving him a standing ovation.
“When Monsignor Sullivan came back to Tooele in 1970, there were social issues that needed to be addressed in light of the movement of the Hispanics,” Martinez added. “He was a great advocate for the rights of every individual. He was from Tooele and understood the social issues in this city.”
Father Wixted said, “Monsignor Sullivan was sensitive to the needs of the underprivileged and the Hispanics.
He was a priestly priest and worked tirelessly as an advocate for those who needed a helping hand.”
Were it not for the efforts of Monsignor Sullivan, Martinez says the beautiful chapel that houses Saint Marguerite’s Parish would not have been built.
“He worked tirelessly to raise funds for this church,” Peggy said.
But along with Peggy, Bennie Mascarenas, another member of Saint Marguerite’s Parish, remembers that Monsignor Sullivan might have been “somewhat mischievous” during his youth.
“I don’t know for sure that this happened, but I was told by a neighbor that when Monsignor Sullivan was a student at Tooele High School, he was a band student,” Mascarenas said. “ I heard he once stuffed some tissues inside the bells of the trumpets played by other students.”
Father Wixted laughed heartily at Mascarenas’ story and added that he, too, had heard about some of the “less serious” times Monsignor Sullivan had as a youngster.
“That probably helped him to better understand the human condition of vigorous youth,” Father Wixted said.
Then, in a more serious tone, Father Wixted said working with Monsignor Sullivan “was wonderful.
He was always very generous and would do anything to help anyone. He especially had a generous spirit for those who were poor. He often did great things for them without anyone knowing what he had done.”
Father Wixted also spoke of the great pride Sullivan took in his Catholic as well as Irish heritage. Ironically, Monsignor Sullivan passed away on March 17, 2005.
After returning to lead Saint Marguerite’s Parish on May 1, 1970, Sullivan left Tooele in 1982 to serve at the Saint Ann Parish in Salt Lake City. Father Wixted said that in each calling Monsignor Sullivan had, “he encouraged devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
Martinez remembers that Sullivan always took the time to visit the homes of his parish members. And last summer, when a tragic car accident claimed the lives of four young Tooele residents and injured six others — all members of Saint Marguerite’s Parish — Monsignor Sullivan came to Tooele the following morning.
Martinez’s two grandsons, Brooks and Eric Martinez, were among the four youth who died in last summer’s crash.
“I looked out my window the next morning and there was Monsignor Sullivan getting out of his car to come and comfort me,” Martinez said. “He could barely walk at the time, but he came to help us cope with the deaths of our loved ones.”
At the Diocesan level, Monsignor Sullivan served as a consulter to two bishops and on numerous committees. He was named a Prelate of Honor in January 1988, and a Protonotary Apostolic in April 2001 by Pope John Paul II in recognition of his years of faithful devotion to the works of the Catholic Church. He was a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.
Father Wixted said that Monsignor Sullivan had been ill for a couple of years before his death last week.
A Funeral Mass was held Wednesday at the Cathedral of the Madeleine for Sullivan. He was buried at Mount Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Salt Lake City.