RVC0117smallBelow are excerpts from the January 2017 issue of The Long Island Catholic Magazine.

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Faith and new works by Bishop William Murphy


On my way to the Telecare luncheon honoring Mr. Charles Dolan, my cell phone rang and the Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, asked me, “Bill, are you alone?” Msgr. Morrissey and I were in the car and I said, “No.” “Call me when you are alone,” he replied. Thus I learned that the Holy Father had appointed Bishop John Barres as the fifth Bishop of Rockville Centre. Later, we talked and discussed dates and other details. On Jan. 31, 2017, Bishop Barres will be installed as the fifth Bishop of our beautiful diocese, with the Mass of Installation scheduled for 2 p.m. at St. Agnes Cathedral.


You can read his biography elsewhere in this issue or online. I want to share with you some personal remarks. First, he is an extraordinary priest and bishop, with an outstanding preparation for the challenging, yet rewarding, tasks that come with being a Bishop here.

We first met at the US Bishops meeting in the fall of 2009. Our introduction and conversation flowed easily. He has a knack for making you feel at ease with him. He was interested in some of the areas of the conference that have been mine: international questions, ecumenism and Catholic-Jewish relations, etc.

In 2014, he and I were part of a group of 18 U.S. bishops who made a pilgrimage of prayer for peace in the Middle East. During our visits to the holy places and with Palestinian and Israeli leaders, I was struck by how perceptive Bishop Barres was. He is a quick read, attentive, sharp and a good listener, with the skill of asking good questions.

The ways of the Lord are always mysterious. The Bishop is one of six children (as am I), he was born and grew up in Larchmont (a native New Yorker) and was formed at Theological College Seminary at the Catholic University of America (where I am a trustee). Ordained for Wilmington, Del., he served in parishes and earned two degrees in Rome, one in canon law and the other in spiritual theology. At the very time he was assigned to be a pastor in a parish in 2009, he discovered he had been made Bishop of Allentown, Pa.

He brings all that preparation, plus a business degree from New York University, to us. We can be very grateful to our Holy Father that we have such a pastoral, caring, listening and talented bishop to sanctify, govern and teach us for many years ahead.

There is an oft told story that St. Ambrose was elected bishop of Milan by the popular acclaim of the people. That is true, but it is only part of the story. Ambrose, like every bishop, received legitimate episcopal ordination in union with the Bishop of Rome and at the hands either of the Pope or of the bishops in union with the Pope.

St. Paul himself gives us clear indications of this in his letters when he designates Timothy to be bishop of Ephesus in what is now Turkey and Titus as bishop of Crete. The great St. Ignatius, second bishop Antioch and martyred in Rome in 107, was the successor of St. Peter, the first bishop of Antioch. Thus, the history of the Church can be measured by the reality of apostolic succession. Bishops are successors to one another in a long line that stretches back to the apostles, who were commissioned by the Lord himself “to go forth and preach the Gospel baptizing in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

Central to all of this is we bishops make up the college of bishops “with Peter and under Peter.” This is what can be called the visible guarantee of the unity of the Church. That structure of the bishops gathered with and under Peter is sustained in unity by the invisible, essential gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit who was poured forth on the first apostles “with Mary in their midst” at that first Pentecost has a visible shape in space and time. Animated by the Spirit of God’s love, we continue to witness that love as the Church, with Christ as head of the body whom we recognize as the bridegroom, espoused to his beloved bride, the Church.

We bishops are called to be “other Christs,” totally committed to the local Church to which we are “betrothed” and charged to serve that Church as teacher, sanctifier and guide. The more we live together and pray together and honor one another in our respective roles, the more the Church shines with the holiness that makes us the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ, bringing his light into the world. The Vatican Council teaches that we should see the bishop as the one who represents the one who sent him, Jesus, who was sent by the Father. “He who sees you sees me and he who sees me sees the One who sent me.”

Many of you may recall my episcopal motto (“No Other Name”) from the Acts of the Apostles. There is no other name by which we can be saved than Jesus Christ. Bishop Barres’ motto is “Holiness and Mission.” The more deeply we live in the holiness that is the gift of the Spirit, the more we will seek to be missionaries, witnesses of Christ for the salvation of all humankind.

Welcome Bishop Barres. You come to us in holiness to fulfill with us our mission.



Feature story


By Katie Fiermonti

God guided Seminarian Chris Sullivan and his family on the path to priesthood



Seminarian Chris Sullivan, 26, was in the eighth or ninth grade when his mother first noticed something special was happening to him during Mass. “It was a clear moment. Chris was just kneeling in prayer,” Rosemary Sullivan said. “I saw it in him. There was just something there, and I said, ‘I think God is calling him to the priesthood.’”


Last November, he was ordained a transitional deacon on his path to becoming a priest of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. His is a life decision welcomed and celebrated by his family, but bolstered with pragmatic reasoning and discernment on the part of Deacon Sullivan and his parents. Making the choice to become a priest was a momentous resolution that, for the Sullivans, took root much earlier than Deacon Sullivan’s teen years.

“But,” Mrs. Sullivan said, “there’s no magic formula for raising your child for a faith vocation.”

As Executive Director for the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors (NCDVD), she also knows firsthand what it’s like to raise a child with aspirations of a career in the Church.

Mrs. Sullivan and her husband Gary, married 30 years, are from different faith backgrounds. Mrs. Sullivan is a cradle Catholic, and Mr. Sullivan was raised Lutheran.

“We knew if God blessed us with children, we would raise them Catholic,” said Mrs. Sullivan.

The couple sent all four of their children to Catholic schools, where some of the Sullivans’ most important values would be reinforced.

“The Catholic school gave them the opportunity to grow deeper in their faith,” Mrs. Sullivan said. “But it also gave them the opportunity to challenge their faith, to understand that it’s OK to question and to push back, to learn from others.”

Family dinner table conversations were spirited and full of discourse, allowing Deacon Sullivan, by then an altar server, to form his own opinions about faith.

“You have to give your kids the freedom to find a safe space. They have to be able to come to your table, to argue or debate,” said Mrs. Sullivan. “If children feel they can only mimic what their parents think, you are doing them a grave disservice. They need to be able to digest other opinions. And that comes back to our faith, whether you’re talking about gay rights or abortion. They have to be able to talk about it. It’s OK to have differences of opinion. Family life is not a family sitcom.”

Just as important was the subconscious decision the couple made to truly live their faith in their everyday lives. Deacon Sullivan remembered how his parents would intersperse Bible stories along with reading fairy tales at bedtime.

“It’s the little things,” Mrs. Sullivan said. “It was just part of the fabric of our family. My kids didn’t watch MTV or have cellphones, because where does the line get drawn if you keep moving the line? And when Chris was maybe in the fifth grade, I challenged the kids to consider going to one extra Mass a week.”

Deacon Sullivan and his siblings were also expected to wear a suit and tie or nicer clothes to Mass. “What I wore reminded me of what I’m doing. In addition, one thing that impressed me was that my dad went to Mass with us,” said Deacon Sullivan. “Faith was always present. In the fifth-grade my dad went through RCIA to become a Catholic, so I got to watch my father engaging in his own faith. I got to be a witness to my superhero doing that.”

Throughout high school, Deacon Sullivan and his siblings all worked and volunteered for St. Patrick Parish in Bay Shore, and that dedication followed Deacon Sullivan to Loyola University. There, he was very active in social justice, organizing Habitat for Humanity and being involved with a homeless support group called Back on Your Feet.

At the end of his sophomore year at Loyola, Mrs. Sullivan and her son had a conversation. She knew he was considering some sort of religious path, but didn’t want to push him away.

“I said, ‘I strongly believe that God is calling you to the priesthood,’” she said. “My concern was that I would push too hard or that I wouldn’t push hard enough. So I said, ‘I’m going to step away and pray.’ It was the single most important thing I could do. I knew he had all the right pieces — a spiritual mentor, his social justice work, all his activities.”

Two years later, Christopher and his parents had their answer. He hoped to enter the religious life with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in the Bronx, which surprised Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan, who assumed he would be a diocesan priest.

“Look, you have to be willing to be surprised by God. That’s vocations!” said Mrs. Sullivan with a laugh.

She pointed out that we are all called to vocations and, thus, a vocational life. Some are called to priesthood, others to religious life, sacred marriages or parenthood.

“Gary didn’t factor in about the calling to a religious life, but he told Chris that while he might not understand his choice, he would support him,” Mrs. Sullivan said. “He will always have the support of his dad. And Chris was on fire! He was floating out of the room!”

Following more discernment, and, according to Deacon Sullivan, Pope Francis’ teachings that diocesan priests can work in the streets, the young man finally settled on the diocesan priesthood, fulfilling the role that his mother had always thought might best fit him. He is currently at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, the main house of priestly formation for the Archdiocese of New York, the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

“Parents always know better,” he said with a grin.

“We are over the moon blessed,” said Mrs. Sullivan. “Chris is saying yes to God and doing what he’s called to do, to have the courage to trust in Jesus and know Jesus is there. We were always hoping Chris would find the channel to God. You just have to trust him.”

Not every family has such a smooth transition for those discerning their futures in the Church, particularly to the priesthood. Some parents mourn the loss of potential grandchildren, and worry about the life of sacrifice their children will assume. And that’s OK, according to Mrs. Sullivan and Father Joseph Fitzgerald, Director of Vocations, whose office offers many avenues of support for those interested in diocesan priesthood, as well as for their families (See page 23).

“Look at Jesus and his parents. They’re called the Holy Family, not the perfect family,” said Father Fitzgerald. “Vocations come from family, from strong, supportive parents. But God’s in charge, and it’s my job to help people discern that.”

“We have to be honest with families and say, ‘Be courageous,’” Mrs. Sullivan said. “We all want our kids to find peace, to find happiness. I always gravitate to those parents who are struggling. Parents have to say, ‘Is this about me or is it about God?’ My advice to those parents is, God is calling your child to something you don’t understand. He’s not calling YOU. He’s calling your son. Pray for your son.”

Deacon Sullivan’s life as a diocesan priest is just beginning. He began his pastoral assignment at St. Kilian’s in Farmingdale, and awaits his ordination to the holy priesthood in June.

His ordination to the diaconate is a moment Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan will always remember. “We are so blessed,” she said. “If you see your son is going on to the right step in his life, that they clearly said yes, they trust in God, how could you ask for anything else for your child?”




“It all begins with prayer”

Discerning a path to the priesthood in the Diocese of Rockville Centre


Think your son or daughter may have a calling to the priesthood or religious life? Wondering what steps you can take as a family to offer support or have your questions answered? According to Father Joseph Fitzgerald, director of vocations for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, vocations come from families and are nurtured in parishes and on the diocesan level.

“But it all begins with prayer,” he said. “Help raise your child to be holy and virtuous. Nurture them. Get them involved in the parish, altar serving, the choir, or hospitality. And ask God, ‘What is your plan for my son or daughter?’”

For those discerning a path to diocesan priesthood, and for their families, Father Fitzgerald’s office provides information and support in the form of retreats, holy hours of prayer, and one-on-one conversations with family members of current seminarians.

“My role is to make sure the priesthood is the right fit. We pray and discern with the potential candidate. We try to help determine if they have an authentic call to serve the Church”.  “Ultimately, we’ve been created by God to be happy. The greatest thing is helping that young person find that joy. When we respond to how God calls us, then our world is transformed.”


For more information, visit www.longislandpriest.com.