Letter from Father Sullivan
“The merciful love of the Lord fills the earth; by the word of the Lord the heavens were made, alleluia.” Psalm 33:5-6
I had the privilege in the early years of my priestly ministry to serve as Assistant in my home parish, Saint Pius X in Reynoldsburg, with a rather legendary priest of the diocese—Monsignor Michael Leo Donovan. As a newly ordained priest, Saint Pius X had been his first pastoral assignment as Assistant. And as Providence would have it, it was his last assignment, as he died very suddenly as Pastor of Saint Pius X.
When he became pastor at Saint Pius X I was still in the seminary. The summer before I returned for my last year of preparation for ordination is when I first met him. Despite all the ominous and dramatic descriptions I had heard, and the rather intimidating stories told about Monsignor, I found him to be extra-ordinarily kind and generous, somewhat earthy, humble and a real gentleman who had accumulated much pastoral and human wisdom from his years as secretary to various Bishops of Columbus while also serving as Chancellor and Vicar General.
As a young priest he had been sent to Rome to study Canon Law at a time when many priests and religious sisters were setting aside their vows to follow the so-called “winds of change” that were stirring in every part of the 1960s world.
Despite growing up in the city, he loved the rural setting and in the last years of his life he had a small farm with cats, chickens and sheep. He would regale us with stories from the farm, sometimes even bringing a runt farm animal back to the rectory to nurture so it could be returned to the country. Such was the case of a little runt lamb Monsignor named “Pius.” Rejected by its mother, he brought the lamb back to the rectory where he made a small pen and bed for it in the kitchen. He fed that little lamb by hand, staying with it all night when it kept the rest of us up with its lonely bleating.
In those days, First Communion was often celebrated on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, every year dedicated to the Good Shepherd, taking its name from one of the Good Shepherd gospel passages proclaimed. Preparing a surprise for the children, Monsignor had little “Pius” brought to the vestibule of the church just as the Gospel was ending. While he was recalling Jesus’ words that the sheep follow Him, the Good Shepherd, “…because they recognize his voice,” Monsignor called for little “Pius” who came running and leaping down the main aisle of the church, taking its place at his good shepherd’s feet. The children were overjoyed at such a display, and I always remember that incident from the so-called “ominous and intimidating” Michael Donovan when this Gospel passage is re-read.
Good Shepherd Sunday is an opportunity to give thanks for those priests in our lives who have been good shepherds. The priest who baptized you, the one from whom you received your First Communion. The priest who heard your First Confession. The priest who married you or offered you wise counsel along the way. And the priest who will finally anoint you and bury you. Also remember those priests who have hurt you, and those priests you have hurt. Those you have been angry with or who have been angry with you. Pray for those priests who have strayed as well as those who have remained faithful.
From my heart to yours, in the hearts of Jesus and Mary,
Peace and blessing,