We invite readers to send short stories about the ways in which their lives have been personally blessed by the life and work of priests and religious in our diocese.
By Cathy Tilzey
“I am thankful to God for the years in the priesthood. It’s a great gift,” Father James M. Sullivan said as he sat down for an interview last week in Helena, several years after retiring from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.
The distinguished priest and physician now resides in Helena and occasionally works in churches in his native diocese, usually filling in for priests. He has served at Helena area parishes.
A Butte native, he attended school there, including Boys Central High School which the Irish Christian Brothers ran. “They were great teachers,” he stated. Then he went to Carroll College, where he met another group of excellent teachers, many of them priests. In both Catholic schools, he was unable to decide whether he wanted to be a priest or a physician. It was a difficult decision for a young man to make.
His pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish in Butte, Msgr. Norbert Hoff, encouraged him to go into the seminary. “The Blessed Mother has everything arranged,” Father Sullivan said.
He graduated from Carroll with a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1956, and entered St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. He was ordained May 28, 1960, and received his first parish assignment at St. Ann’s in Butte.
Medical schools and other assignments took him to St. Louis, Mo., Creighton University School of Medicine, University of Nebraska Medical Center, and two parishes in Omaha.
Father Sullivan said he is a neurologist and psychiatrist. He has practiced both in addition to serving in parishes. One of the unusual priestly duties that he and other priests performed was religious burial services and graveside rites for cadavers from the St. Louis University anatomy laboratories. He said that people who have donated their bodies for medical research deserve religious burial services, and he was happy to provide them.
He also has celebrated special Masses, homilies and other religious services for people who have donated their bodies to the St. Louis University Medical Center.
Father Sullivan has received a number of awards, but he pointed out two that he especially treasures. One is from Carroll College – the Most Prestigious Alumni Academic Achievement Award. It was presented to him Oct. 1, 1993, at the Catholic school. The other one is the Golden Apple Award for his Medical School Class of 1979. He also was one of the three highest candidates for the Golden Apple Award in 1976, 1980 and 1982.
He has earned academic appointments at Carroll, St. Louis University and Creighton University, and teaching responsibilities at all three schools. And he has lectured or spoken at conferences on a wide range of medical topics, including continuing education, physical therapy, AIDS and a number of specialties.
Father Sullivan is also a member of professional organizations, 14 in the United States, and an honorary member of two in Britain and Europe.
“I have been happy as a priest,” he stated. “They’ve been great years, with many opportunities and challenges. Praise the Lord!”
Published in The Montana Catholic, Vol. 25, No. 8, August 21, 2009.