Rev. Fr. William Laurie Sullivan, the Blessed Sacrament Missionary from Australia to Sri Lanka, breathed his last peacefully at St. Vincent’s Private Hospital, Fitzroy on December 30 two years ago at a very ripe age of 92.
As a boy, his vocation to priesthood was inspired by Augustinian Fathers who ministered in the large country parish Kyabram. He travelled from church to church on Sundays after fasting from midnight the previous day. We know this had been the experience for us all who were faithful Catholics of the pre-Vatican II era. He too was influenced by Redemptorist Fathers who moved from parish to parish, preaching thundering sermons and powerful missions to keep up the religious faith in local Christian communities.
Rev. Father Laurie often said, “From my teenage days, I was strongly empowered by the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.” This was said before Vatican II had made its strong emphasis on Eucharistic Theology.
Having completed his secondary education at St. Stanislaus College at Bathurst, NSW in 1948, he entered the novitiate of the Blessed Sacrament Congregation at Bowral, the town that became famous at that time owing to Sir Don Bradman who lived there during his cricketing heights. Rev. Fr. Suillivan made his first profession in religious life there at Bowral on the feast day of St. Joseph, March 19, 1951.
His philosophical and theological studies for the ministry commenced at St. Francis Church Seminary in Melbourne and later completed in the newly-built Christ the King College Seminary in Templestowe (later called Lower-Plenty). On January 18, 1956, he was ordained minister at St. Patrick’s Cathedral at Melbourne in Victoria.
Within months of his ordination, Rev. Fr. Bill Laurie Sullivan accepted a missionary posting in Sri Lanka. Although he could not be an opener for the Australian Blessed Sacrament Mission in Colombo, he joined the opening team giving the vigour it needed to support Rev. Fr. Kevin Gallaghar youthfully 19 at that time. Over the next several decades, Rev. Fr. Sullivan served three times as captain of the community in Colombo and was the ideal choice as opener for the Blessed Sacrament Seminary at Kandy in the capacity of ‘Director of Seminarians’ where he served two terms encouraging many seminarians of whom I was one.
He returned to Australia in mid-1994 and ministered at a church in Perth Western Australia before returning to St. Francis Church at Melbourne in 1999. He remained in this church till mid-2017, but ailing health prompted his transfer to a residential aged care centre at Mercy Place in Parkville, Australia.
Rev. Fr. Sullivan is gratefully remembered for his long years of service and being in the pioneering batch in Sri Lanka. A gentle and much-loved pastor who in any chaotic situation could act as a captain cool to bring it back to peace and tranquility. He is also widely known for his spiritual guidance and counsel to those in need.
Rev. Fr. Sullivan always remembered all people as ones created ‘in the image and likeness of God,’ Gen 1:27 and so responded to everyone’s beck and call and never left any letter unanswered even in his nineties thereby demonstrating what he often said, “We ought to thank the God we cannot see by thanking God’s people whom we can see.”
He returned to Sri Lanka in 2016 for the 60th anniversary celebrations of The Blessed Sacrament Church’s Foundation in Colombo. The local folks were overjoyed to see his face once again. However, just like when Paul told the Elders of Ephesus at Port Miletus in his farewell message, Acts 20: 25 & 38, where all who heard Paul were saddened and cut to their hearts because he said they would never see him again. So was it to the people of Sri Lanka when they heard Rev. Fr. Sullivan say in the last words of his address that day, “Most of you here would be here again for the next anniversary celebration but I certainly would not. Amen!”
By Chap. Fr. R.R.W.F. Pereira.imi.UK. OBU SJC. ChaplainBritishRoyalNavyPort of Colombo, S.L. (Voluntary Service)