Comment & Analysis

Pope Francis could use visit to right a wrong
The Jesuit Pope might visit the shrine of a colleague, but there’s another nearby tomb he could consider as well, writes Finola Kennedy

A picture of Fr Sullivan's coffin being carried to his grave in Clongowes on February 22, 1933.

Finola Kennedy

When stepping down from the role of Taoiseach, both Charlie Haughey and Brian Cowen quoted household names: William Shakespeare and John F. Kennedy respectively. Not so Bertie Ahern who quoted the Jesuit priest Blessed John Sullivan: “This day now, at least let this be a good day. Be always beginning, let the past go. Now let me do whatever I have the power to do”.

Two years ago a special Evensong was held in Christchurch Cathedral to commemorate Fr John Sullivan. The Church of Ireland Archbishop Michael Jackson presided. He captured in a phrase what many agree is the essence of John Sullivan when he said that he moved from ‘sophistication to simplicity’ in his way of life. At the service many Jesuit priests stood alongside their Church of Ireland counterparts. 

A papal visit to Ireland from Pope Francis is expected next August. It may provide an opportunity to redress an omission during the last papal visit in 1979. For the community in the parish of Our Lady of Lourdes in Sean McDermott Street, named after a 1916 leader, it was what Pope John Paul II did not do that mattered. 


For weeks before the visit locals had cleaned the church and literally scrubbed the streets in preparation for the anticipated visit of the Pope to the Shrine of Matt Talbot, the Dublin labourer who struggled with alcohol. The Pope, who had greeted VIPs in the morning at the airport and would greet many of the same people again at a reception that evening, failed to stop at Sean McDermott Street.  

Since then the Sean McDermott Street parish has changed in some unforeseen ways. Fr Richard Ebejer, until recently the administrator, is a Salesian priest from Malta. In a letter to this newspaper in 2015 in the context of a possible visit to Ireland by Pope Francis, Fr Ebejer described how John Paul II “was just driven past the church” in Sean McDermott Street. 

He said: “The disappointment of the locals is still very palpable today, 36 years later.”

A community at its best and most welcoming felt snubbed.  Fr Ebejer claims that the Shrine of Matt Talbot was actually included in the Pope’s itinerary but due to ‘logistic reasons’ the Pope did not stop. Fr Ebejer suggested that if Pope Francis came to visit the Shrine of Matt Talbot he would surely also visit the Shrine of the Jesuit John Sullivan around the corner in Gardiner Street. Now it may be the other way around.


Finola Kennedy is an economist and writer.