The Fatherhood of God

A few weeks before Father's Day, the world lost one of its great fathers.

I first met Daniel Sullivan through my friend Anne, the seventh of his eight children. She and I were taking a road trip through New England and we stopped in Connecticut where I met her glorious Irish family - presided over by a pipe-smoking Boston Irishman with a voice that landed somewhere between a growl and a bark; whose gruff exterior did little to conceal his obvious delight in his large and often noisy crew.

Over the years, I visited the Sullivan clan as often as I could. Being the granddaughter of an Italian immigrant, I love nothing more than a good story from a good storyteller. And Sullivan was among the best - but with his own gravelly voiced, tea-drinking flair. Yes, tea. He was the only person I ever knew who made a simple cup of tea seem like the "Official Drink of a Man's Man."

Because that's what he was.

Sullivan was a devout Catholic. He attended Mass. He prayed the rosary. And he raised eight of the most faithful, impressive, delightful people I have ever had the privilege of knowing.

But it wasn't until his final illness that I realized the depths of the holiness that lay beneath that gruff Irish exterior.

His prayer life - from what I have heard - was very simple. The Mass. The Magnificat. The rosary. Lots and lots of rosaries. He became known as the "Rosary Man," and when people saw him walking around town, they would shout out "Pray one for me." His mother had prayed a rosary each day for each of her five children and he was perpetually frustrated that he couldn't manage to say one each day for each of his eight children, and instead tended to max out at three. Three rosaries a day. I don't know what his prayer life looked like when he was younger, but I do know that in his final years he prayed those rosaries in addition to daily Mass, and an hour or more spent with the Magnificat, in intercessory prayer (he kept an extensive list - and once you were on it, you were on it forever) and in personal conversation with God.

I don't know about you, but I often struggle with prayer. I think I'm not doing it right. I think it needs to be complex or fancy or mystical. I try on methods like I try on clothing.

Sullivan's example taught me that prayer doesn't need to be complicated to be deep - the simplest prayer life can bring us to incredible sanctity.

And his sanctity was incredible. The state of a person's spiritual life is never clearer that when he faces death. And Sullivan shone. He had been preparing for eternal life his entire earthly life, and he was ready to go. If he ever feared death during his final illness, I didn't hear about it. He was receiving divine consolation. He said he felt particularly close to the Holy Spirit, and to the Virgin Mary.

At one point, when he was being released from the hospital to at-home hospice care, his son asked him if he was ready to go home. He apparently misunderstood which "home" he was going to, and he said, "Yeah, I'm ready to die. Let's get it over with."

He was a holy man.

This is the lesson of Sullivan's life. I meet so many men - so many fathers - who want to do big things for God. They want to slay spiritual dragons. They want to fight big battles. They want to change the world. They think this is what they are called to, that this is where they will find sanctity.

Sullivan didn't live a particularly extraordinary life. He didn't save a nation or found a religious order. He was "just" a father. He went to work. He loved his wife. (On his deathbed, he called her his "best friend.") He raised his family. He prayed for them, gave his all to them.

Quite simply, he loved. Not in a fawning or gushy way, but in his own Gruff-Irishman-with-a-Thinly-Disguised-Heart-of-Gold way. He did what he was called to do in the vocation of fatherhood and he did it with great love.

That is a beautiful path to holiness.

Human fatherhood - physical and spiritual - is an extension of the Fatherhood of God. It cooperates with Him to bring forth life - physical and spiritual - and reflects His Fatherly love on earth.

Dan Sullivan did that beautifully.

I'm asking you to pray for the repose of his soul - because I don't know how God works these things, and I'm not a big believer in second-guessing or presuming.

But I'm also going to say that, along with those prayers, you may want to ask Sullivan to put in a good word for you. Because I think fathers may have just gained a new patron saint.

Bonacci is a syndicated columnist based in Denver and the author of We're on a Mission from God and Real Love..

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016