R.I.P. Bishop Walter F Sullivan of Richmond: Thank You My Smiling Bishop Friend
evangelical Protestant leader Pat Robertson had read the book. He contacted me through friends. It was Pat who had the inspiration to found the ACLJ back when there were no similar law firms "to defend the rights of believers." I was as surprised as anyone else when he invited me, a very vocal Catholic, to come to Virginia Beach and build the American Center for Law and Justice.
During those days, evangelical and Catholic cooperation in the great causes of our age was not popular or prevalent. However, my wife and I knew, as we have known with many other invitations since, this was an invitation which the Lord was behind. We packed up everything and moved. That is what missionaries do.
Some of our Catholic friends from my days doing shows on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) were shocked. However, we knew that to build such a law firm was important - and that it was a part of an unfolding plan. Some were shocked that I would actually go to work with a Protestant. Some even questioned my commitment to Catholic orthodoxy. I am glad things have changed since then.
During our first year in Virginia I met Bishop Walter F Sullivan. We connected on the conviction we held in common, the fundamental human Right to Life. We had both heard the cry of those whom Mother Teresa called the poorest of the poor, children in the womb of their mother, and we had to act with our lives. Bishop Sullivan was a genuinely Pro-Life Bishop. In fact, his passionate love for all of the poor was rooted in his deep belief in the dignity of every human person.
In the early nineties our paths crossed many times. We developed what some deemed to be an unlikely friendship. After all, those prone to labeling put us in different "camps" on some of the pressing theological and political issues of the hour. My dear mother would have called us "Frick and Frack". I had been labeled by some in the Richmond Diocese a "conservative", theologically and politically, and they could not make sense out of that friendship.I do not like labels.
Bishop Sullivan and I shared a deep faith in the Risen Jesus Christ, an ecumenical heart and an evangelistic fervor to share the Gospel. In addition, as a Bishop of the Church, I esteemed Bishop Sullivan as I esteem all of the successors of the Apostles. I learned from him and, even when we disagreed, he was never disagreeable.
He always had words of encouragement for me as I engaged in my intense constitutional legal work during those years. He was supportive even when my work stirred some controversy. Rather than make me worry I would lose his support, he would reaffirm it. He was also supportive of my evangelistic and ecumenical efforts. As busy as he was, he actually read some of my writings - and even wrote to me concerning several pieces, suggesting helpful ways of addressing issues more completely. I knew my Bishop was for me, and I needed it. I still do.
Bishop Sullivan also took an interest in my family, a real one. You knew that when he asked you about your wife and your children, he really meant it. It was not just protocol or conversational nicety. Any time I wrote to him he wrote me back - personally. When you were with Bishop Sullivan, his engaging smile and big laugh would make you feel at home and draw you into its warmth. You wanted to be in his company.
I served the Lord as a lay leader for many full and meaningful years. To serve the Lord and His Catholic Church is the greatest joy of my life. However, there is no doubt that the call to Holy orders as a Deacon of the Church was the invitation which changed everything. That invitation came through Bishop Walter F Sullivan. For that I will always be grateful.
Now in my seventeenth year of ordered service, I am more grateful to him than when he first invited me to discern the vocation. Back when he invited me to consider the call, there was no program in the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia. In fact, there was a rumor floating around that he would never ordain a deacon. Many of his priests did not want to see a Deacon program, for several reasons which are no longer important.
One day he called me when he was coming down to Hampton Roads and invited me to attend the Mass at which he going to preside. He also invited me for a cup of coffee afterward. He would periodically do that when he was in town. I always enjoyed the opportunity. Our conversations were lively, interesting and often made me laugh - usually when I really needed it.
On that day he asked me if I had ever considered being a deacon. I told him that I had and that Bishop Ottenweller had discussed it with me when I lived in Steubenville. He then did something I will remember for the rest of my life. He leaned forward over the table, looked me straight in the eyes with intensity and said, "Keith, I want you to ...
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Bishop Walter F Sullivan, Bishop Francis DiLorenzo, Richmond, Virginia, Diocese of Richmond, Diaconate in Christ, Deacon, ordination, Deacon Keith Fournier
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