Larchmont Priest Named Bishop

By Gary Stern
The Journal News
June 29, 2004

LARCHMONT - Pope John Paul II yesterday named two new auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of New York, including a respected Larchmont priest who has taken on large responsibilities for Cardinal Edward Egan in recent years.

Bishop-elect Dennis Sullivan, who became pastor a year ago at the Church of Sts. John and Paul in Larchmont, said he was told of the appointment last week. He and Bishop-elect Gerald Walsh, pastor of St. Elizabeth Church in Manhattan, were introduced by Egan at St. Patrick's Cathedral yesterday, hours after the Vatican officially announced their appointments.

"I am very excited about this new mission and ministry I will undertake for the church," Sullivan said after returning to Larchmont. "I hope that I am as good a bishop as I think I have been a parish priest. That is all I've been. I love parish work. I love being a parish priest."

It is unclear whether Sullivan or Walsh will remain in their parish assignments. Bishop Timothy McDonnell served as co-vicar general of the archdiocese, the top administrative position, before being named bishop of Springfield, Mass., in March, and Sullivan said it is possible he will replace McDonnell.

"That might happen, but I'm not sure yet," said Sullivan, 54, who grew up in the Bronx. He said he hopes to stay in Larchmont, but the decision rests with Egan.

"They will remain on their current assignments until we hear from the cardinal," said Wanda Vasquez, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese.

McDonnell was overseeing the early stages of a planned realignment of parishes within the 10-county archdiocese. Sullivan is familiar with some of the issues forcing the realignment, including the growing number of Catholics in Putnam, Orange and Dutchess counties and the challenges faced by near-empty churches in Manhattan and elsewhere. He has served for three years on the archdiocese's interparish finance board, which looks at the financial struggles facing many parishes.

"It's given me a sense of the larger archdiocese and some of the larger problems that have to be dealt with," Sullivan said. "We have to open parishes in Putnam and Dutchess. I think the cardinal wants to do that, has to do that."

Sullivan also has served for the past two years as the only priest on an archdiocesan review board that studies sexual abuse allegations against priests and makes recommendations to Egan. The board has considered more than a dozen difficult cases since 2002.

"It's been a humbling experience," Sullivan said. "It has been a tragic page in church history, but I think everyone should applaud the church's recent efforts to protect children. Children are not just abused by priests, although that has happened, but by teachers, family members and others. But I don't see anyone else stepping up to the plate like the church has to deal with this."

Walsh, 62, is a Manhattan native who was part of the last class of priests ordained by Cardinal Francis Spellman in 1967. He served as secretary to Cardinal John O'Connor from 1996 to 1998, when he became pastor of St. Elizabeth and vicar of northern Manhattan. He became the archdiocese's vicar of development in December.

Sullivan and Walsh will join three auxiliary bishops who already assist Egan in running the archdiocese, home to an estimated 2.5 million Catholics.

Mamaroneck town Supervisor Valerie O'Keeffe said Sullivan had quickly won over community leaders and she hoped he could serve as auxiliary bishop while staying in Larchmont.

"We need bishops who have courage and a prophetic voice and intelligence," she said. "He is a good choice."

The Rev. John Quinn, pastor of St. Patrick's Church in Armonk and a member of Sullivan's 1971 graduating class from St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, said Sullivan is a hard-working priest who learned to speak Spanish and Chinese so he could better serve parishioners.

"He's got an infectious laugh and a way with words," Quinn said. "He's also a wonderful, wonderful singer."

Quinn said Sullivan is known for his renditions of "Four Green Fields" and "Far Away in Australia." Several members of Sullivan's class plan to celebrate with him tonight.

Sullivan served only in urban parishes before coming to Larchmont last July 1. His previous 21 years had been at St. Teresa's Church in Manhattan, a diverse parish with large Asian and Hispanic communities.

He said the suburbs are the same, and yet different.

"The people are the same. It's amazing," he said. "The challenge is different, to bring the Gospel to a much more sophisticated, educated group of people and help them see the value of faith and the traditions of our faith. Some people here are in influential situations, so you hope they will bring some Gospel values to their boardrooms."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.