BROOKLYN –– Just five days after his 57th anniversary as a priest, retired Auxiliary Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan of Brooklyn died June 7 of injuries he suffered in a car accident a week earlier on the Long Island Expressway in Syosset. He was 83.
Funeral home visitation and a wake for Bishop Sullivan were to be held June 10 and 11 at McLaughlin & Sons Funeral Home in Brooklyn. A vigil Mass was to be celebrated June 11 at Our Lady of Hope Church in Middle Village and a funeral Mass scheduled for June 12 at his childhood parish church, St. Ephrem in Brooklyn. Burial was to follow at St. John's Cemetery in Middle Village.
A native of Brooklyn, Bishop Sullivan lived, studied and worked his entire life in and nearby his hometown, serving in many positions that allowed him to use his training in social work and his commitment to Catholic health care.
He retired in 2005 but continued to serve on boards for Catholic hospitals and other health institutions, said Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio.
"He epitomized the best of our church's teaching and the fundamental option for the poor," Bishop DiMarzio said in a statement. "He was an outstanding priest."
"During his tenure, Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens became a nationally recognized provider of social services," said Bishop DiMarzio.
As auxiliary bishop, Bishop Sullivan served as regional bishop for 62 parishes and as vicar for human services, where his work included the formation of St. Vincent's Catholic Medical Centers. The diocese describes St. Vincent's as joining the hospitals and medical facilities of the diocese with those run by the New York Sisters of Charity.
He also served on numerous church and civic boards involved with health and human services, including the chairmanship of the Catholic Health Association, of the Catholic Medical Center of Brooklyn and Queens and membership on the board of Catholic Charities USA.
He served as chairman of the U.S. bishops' Domestic Policy Committee in the 1980s and was for many years a member of the committee.
Within the bishops' conference, he chaired an ad hoc committee in the 1990s that produced a pastoral letter on charity, "In All Things Charity: A Pastoral Challenge for the New Millennium," approved by the bishops in 1999.
He described the letter as intended to "reclaim the meaning of charity," which he said had become a pejorative term in society.
Bishop Sullivan was born March 23, 1930, one of 11 children of the late Thomas and Margaret Sullivan. He attended St. Ephrem's elementary school and St. Michael's High School, both in Brooklyn, before going on to Manhattan College.
After studying at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, Long Island, he was ordained June 2, 1956, at Brooklyn's St. James Cathedral.
Three years into his priesthood, after working at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Queens Village, he began studies in social work, leading to a master's degree from Fordham University in 1961. He was quickly named assistant director of Catholic Charities' childcare division and became director four years later. After obtaining a second master's degree in public administration from New York University, then-Father Sullivan was named executive director of Catholic Charities, and later joined its board of trustees as executive vice president.
In October 1980, Pope John Paul II named him an auxiliary bishop, along with two other Brooklyn priests, now-retired Auxiliary Bishop Rene Valero, who remained in Brooklyn, and the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who went on to head the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
News reports said Bishop Sullivan's car got a flat tire as he drove on the expressway May 30, causing him to stop in the HOV express lane, where his car was hit from behind and that car also was hit. He was airlifted to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, N.Y., where he died the following week. The driver of the second car also was briefly hospitalized and then released.
Six of Bishop Sullivan's siblings survive him: his sisters Betty, Dolly and Fran, and brothers John, Pete and Ralph, along with more than 100 nieces, nephews, and grandnieces and grandnephews.