A few weeks before Father's Day, the world lost one of its
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
But it wasn't until his final illness that I realized the
depths of the holiness that lay beneath that gruff Irish
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
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
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
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
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
Bonacci is a syndicated columnist based in Denver and the
author of We're on a Mission from God and Real Love..