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Pastor title has enough facets for busy Msgr. Sullivan

Posted By July 3, 2013 | 1:08 pm | Featured Article #1

By Margaret M. Russell

Many would agree that Msgr. Thomas J. Sullivan is good at multi-tasking. There probably aren’t too many jobs in the diocese that he has not done and for many years he could be found doing more than one at a time. While talking about his past 15 years as chancellor of the diocese, he said that the lines between one job and another were often blurred.
Well, who wouldn’t be blurry-eyed while holding down the positions of chancellor, director of the Office of Stewardship and Development and director of the Office of Financial Affairs, all at the same time?
He took on those posts after leaving behind jobs as headmaster of St. Bernard Central Catholic High School, associate director of the Office of Religious Education, director of vocations and secretary to the bishop.  And throughout, he has been an associate pastor or pastor at several parishes.
So it was no understatement when Bishop McManus said at a recent Chancery “farewell breakfast” for Msgr. Sullivan that he noticed he was spreading himself a little thin.
He is the longest-serving chancellor in the diocese’s 62-year history. During his time as chancellor he received pontifical honors and the title monsignor. This week Mgr. Sullivan leaves his 15-year post as chancellor to concentrate on parish life with one job title – pastor. (Take heart though, Msgr. Sullivan, as you already know, the job of pastor has so many facets that you will feel right at home.)
In July 2011, Bishop McManus named Msgr. Sullivan pastor of Christ the King in Worcester, a large, active parish in the Tatnuck section of the city.
“What I want to do here is to build the best parish I can build,” he said in an interview last week from the rectory on Pleasant Street. And he is well on his way by increasing adult education offerings in the parish, being involved in youth ministry (even taking a role in the annual play) and initiating a new novena to St. Joseph which will be repeated annually.
Looking back on his years as chancellor, Msgr. Sullivan explained that canonically, a chancellor has one official function – that of archivist.
“In every diocese the job description is different,” he said. “You do what the bishop needs to be done.”
Bishop Daniel P. Reilly named Msgr. Sullivan chancellor in 1998. Bishop Reilly thought that the chancellor should focus on the growing needs of the parishes. In that regard, Msgr. Sullivan met with parish councils and talked to pastors to help with whatever problems they encountered, he said. He represented the bishop at parish functions whenever the Bishop or auxiliary Bishop George E. Rueger could not attend.
Msgr. Sullivan was in that office during the height of the sexual abuse scandal in the Church. That determined some of his duties as chancellor. He served as liaison to District Attorney John Conte when criminal allegations surfaced, he said.
“I met with a lot of victims,” he said. One of his most rewarding roles during that time was to be able to “bring some peace and healing to victims and advocate for them,” he said.
Also rewarding was his role in setting the diocesan fiscal house in order with the Forward in Faith campaign that boosted the diocesan portfolio, he said. Also, the Sharing Our Blessings campaign “has put more money in the pockets of the parishes,” he said. As a result, the cathedraticum has grown and the campaign has helped add about $35 million to parishes’ income, he said. He also worked with individual parishes to eliminate debt. One success was St. Thomas-a-Becket Parish in Barre, that became debt-free after the Development Office coordinated its fund-raising campaign.
Not all of his time was inside the diocese though. He recalled several trips he made with Bishop Reilly that broadened his experience of the universal Church. In 1998 he went with Bishop Reilly to Cuba and met Fidel Castro. He was also on the trip to Poland that year at a world Eucharistic Congress in Wroclaw for a Papal Mass of a million people with Blessed John Paul II. At the time it was thought that it would be John Paul’s last visit to his homeland, but it didn’t turn out to be, he said. The Jubliee Year 2000 pilgrimage took him to France, Rome and Ireland, also with Bishop Reilly and many diocesan pilgrims.
His trip to Haiti with Bishop Reilly probably has played a role in his decision to set up a twinning arrangement between Christ the King Parish and a parish in that poverty-stricken island nation. He said they are getting ready to formalize a relationship with the help of Sister Marie-Judith Dupuy in the diocesan Haitian Apostolate.
He is also undertaking a major parish census to “find out who we really are.”
His to-do list is a long one: more spiritual offerings, Bible study, social justice programs, new baptismal preparation program and just getting more people involved in supporting the church.
And just so he doesn’t become too parish-only-focused, he will keep involved with several diocesan committees and the first-in-the-nation diocesan Men’s Conference which he started more than 14 years ago – while he was chancellor.