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Rev. Robert J. Sullivan

Deceased: 2021-10-16

Diocese: BOSTON

Seminary Graduation Year: 1978

By Father Robert M. O’Grady and Mr. Thomas Burke

Father Robert J. Sullivan died in Worcester, Massachusetts on October 16, 2021 after a lengthy period of declining health. He was ordained in Rome on May 21, 1978 by James Robert Cardinal Knox. He celebrated his First Mass in the Eternal City at the historic basilica of San Clemente in the presence of Maximilian Louis Cardinal von Fürstenberg.

For four decades, he served the Archdiocese of Boston in pastoral ministry.

Following his return to the archdiocese in 1978, he was appointed an associate at Immaculate Conception Parish, Malden. He regularly referred to it as “Malden the Golden” because of its well justified reputation as one of the great parishes of the archdiocese.

He was then appointed parochial vicar at St. Joseph Parish, Belmont (1982-1990). He was greatly loved by the parishioners and he was noted for the corps of altar servers he recruited and trained. He convinced servers not to retire at the end of the eighth grade, as was the usual practice. Instead they stayed on through high school and not a few, returning during their college years, served parish Mass during their summer vacations and at Christmas break

He was subsequently named parochial vicar at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Norwood (1990-1996). At the time he was one of several assigned to the parish. And he would tell friends that if there were three more available there would be plenty of parish work for them. As usual, he was not bothered b parish work.

He next and brief appointment was as parochial vicar at St. Theresa of Avila Parish, West Roxbury (1996-1997), where he ably assisted and entertained with his inimitable story telling ability, the rather full house of priests, including the long serving pastor, Msgr. William M. Helmick.

Father Sullivan’s last assignment and his only one as pastor, before illness forced his retirement, was as pastor of St. Thecla in Pembroke from 1997 to 2008. He was an active participant in town affairs, including serving on a committee for the construction of the new Pembroke High School.

During his ministry Father Sullivan served for several years as a member of the Board of Trustees of St. Sebastian’s School in Needham. He also taught classes in history at Northeastern, UMass Boston and the archdiocesan seminary.

Father Sullivan was born on March 21, 1945 in New York City. His father, Joseph John Sullivan, was a New York City firefighter. He retired as Fire Chief, Department of Personnel. His mother Grace Isabella (Gilkinson) Sullivan was an executive secretary at Metropolitan Life. Both predeceased him, as did his younger brother, Brian.

Father Sullivan is survived by his sister Joann (Sullivan) Williamson of Seattle and his older brother John of New York City.

Father Sullivan graduated from Regis High School in New York City. He received an AB in History and Classics from Boston College. At BC he was the lead actor in the college’s Drama Society.

Father Sullivan received both an MA and a Ph.D. in Medieval History from Harvard University.

Early in life, he pondered ta vocation to priestly life and seemed cut out for the Jesuits, but rather liked the diocesan priesthood since he could balance his pastoral sense and the academic experiences. He completed his seminary formation at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, receiving a Bachelor in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas — the Angelicum.

A Memorial Mass will be planned in the spring of 2022 in the Boston area.