About Us

Our Namesake

“We need the poor, more than the poor need us.” 

Bishop John J. Sullivan led the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph from 1977 to 1993. Bishop Sullivan retired in 1993 because of the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease. He died on Feb. 11, 2001, at 80 years of age at the Jeanne Jugan Center, a care facility run by the Little Sisters of the Poor. Throughout his career, he demonstrated a commitment to care for the poor and train others for ministry.

John Joseph Sullivan was born in Horton, Kansas, on July 5, 1920. His family moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, when he was 10. He was ordained a priest on Sept. 23, 1944, for the then Diocese of Oklahoma City and Tulsa. He served parishes in Tulsa, Guthrie and Oklahoma City. While in Guthrie, he began recruiting college students to work as volunteers among the poor, starting a life-long practice of involving lay people in church ministry and service to the poor.

In 1961, he went to work for the Catholic Church Extension Society, an organization dedicated to supporting mission work in poor areas within the United States.

In 1968, Bishop Victor Reed of Oklahoma City appointed him Episcopal Vicar for eastern Oklahoma.

Pope Paul VI appointed Father Sullivan bishop of Grand Island, Nebraska, on July 25, 1972. He served there five years before Pope Paul appointed him bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph. He took office in Kansas City on Aug. 17, 1977, and served until his retirement and succession by Bishop Raymond J. Boland on Sept. 9, 1993.

In Kansas City, he continued his interest in serving the poor and in developing lay people for church ministry. He established the Center for Pastoral Life and Ministry to provide training for parish ministry to lay persons, priests and others. His vision of competent lay ministers took on national dimensions with the founding of the Institute for Pastoral Life which, with the support of the Extension Society, helped train people to work in dioceses with limited resources of personnel and funds.

He also expressed his concern for the poor through the establishment of The Central City School Fund in 1989. This fund enabled poor families to send their children to Catholic schools through scholarships. The venture embodied Bishop Sullivan’s belief that education offered the best hope of breaking the cycle of poverty. The fund is still helping families today and is now known as the Bright Futures Fund.

Bishop Sullivan often preached, “We need the poor, more than the poor need us.” The good bishop believed that though the poor could benefit from our material excess, we could benefit from their spiritual “excess.”

Because of his dedication to the poor throughout his life, this Center has been named after him.