Retired Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Sullivan of Brooklyn dies at 83

The Most Reverend Joseph M. Sullivan, retired Auxiliary Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, died on Friday, June 7, succumbing to injuries he sustained in a May 30 car accident. He was 83.

Bishop Sullivan was critically injured in a three-vehicle collision on the Long Island Expressway near Syosset. He immediately airlifted to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, New York. He died from injuries sustained from the impact.

“We mourn the passing of Bishop Joseph Sullivan,” said Diocesan Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio. “During his tenure, Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens became a nationally recognized provider of social services. Even in retirement, Bishop Joe continued to serve on many boards for Catholic hospitals and health institutions. He epitomized the best of our Church’s teaching and the fundamental option for the poor. He was an outstanding priest.”

Bishop Sullivan was born on March 23, 1930, one of 11 children of the late Thomas and Margaret Sullivan.  Bishop Sullivan attended St. Ephrem’s elementary school and St. Michael’s Diocesan High School, both in Brooklyn, and Manhattan College. 

He began studies for the priesthood at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, L.I., in 1950, and was ordained June 2, 1956, by Archbishop Thomas E. Molloy in St. James Cathedral in Brooklyn.

During his first three years as a priest, he served Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Queens Village. He was then assigned to study social work, and in l961 he earned a master’s degree from the Fordham University School of Social Work. During that same year, he was appointed assistant director of Catholic Charities’ childcare division and four years later was named the director.  Bishop Sullivan also earned a master’s degree in public administration from New York University.

When Bishop Francis J. Mugavero became the Diocesan Bishop in 1968, he chose then–Father Sullivan to succeed him as the executive director of Catholic Charities and appointed him as Secretary to the Ordinary for Charities. Sullivan was elected executive vice-president of the board of trustees of Catholic Charities in l979.

The following year, on Oct. 7, 1980, Fr. Sullivan was one of three Brooklyn priests whom then-Pope John Paul II named as Auxiliary Bishops. The others were late Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua and Bishop Rene A. Valero. Bishop–elect Sullivan was also given the title of Titular Bishop of Suliana.

As an auxiliary bishop, Bishop Sullivan held the titles of Vicar for Human Services and Regional Bishop for the 62 parishes of the Brooklyn West Vicariate.

Bishop Sullivan’s additional pastoral work included health care issues and needs, where he was instrumental in the formation of St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Centers, which joined the hospitals and related facilities of the Diocese with similar institutions conducted by the New York Sisters of Charity.  Bishop Sullivan served on numerous Church and civic boards concerned with health and human services on the national, State and local levels. These have included the chairmanship of the Catholic Medical Center of Brooklyn and Queens and membership on the board of Catholic Charities USA.

Outside the Diocese, Bishop Sullivan was chairman of the Social Development and World Peace Department of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

During the late 1990s, he chaired an ad hoc committee that produced a pastoral letter on charity — “In All Things Charity: A Pastoral Challenge for the New Millennium” — approved by the U.S. bishops in November 1999. He said the message was intended “to reclaim the meaning of charity,” which he said had become a pejorative term in modern society.

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, upon learning Friday of Bishop Sullivan’s death, said, “All of Brooklyn joins me today in mourning the passing of Bishop Joseph Sullivan—Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Bishop Sullivan was not just a spiritual leader to Catholics in the Diocese—he set an example for followers of all faiths and creeds. I was honored to know him and look to him, as did many elected officials, for guidance and insight throughout my career. Bishop Sullivan was Brooklyn’s spiritual Borough President whose leadership in the faith community cannot be overstated, and he leaves an enduring legacy of compassion and charity. My thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family as we remember not just a great Brooklynite but a truly great man.”

Bishop Sullivan is survived by his sisters Betty, Dolly and Fran, and brothers John, Pete and Ralph; more than 100 nieces, nephews, and grandnieces and grandnephews. His brothers Gerard, Richard, Thomas and William predeceased him.

A wake will be held for Bishop Sullivan on Monday, June 10 from 2-5 p.m. and again 7-9 p.m. at McLaughlin & Sons Funeral Home, 9620 Third Avenue (on the corner of 97th Street), in Bay Ridge. Tomorrow’s wake hours, at McLaughlin Funeral Home, are noon to 5 p.m.

A Vigil Mass will be offered on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Our Lady of Hope R.C. Church, 61-21 71st Street (Eliot Avenue and 72nd Street), in Middle Village, Queens.

The funeral Mass will be held in Brooklyn, at Church of St. Ephrem, 929 Bay Ridge Parkway (75th Street between Fort Hamilton Parkway & 10th Avenue) at 11 a.m., Wednesday, June 12. Burial will follow at St. John’s Cemetery in Middle Village.