T. Raymond Sullivan, 67; Priest Who Served in Africa, Vietnam
By Tom Long
December 1, 1994
Rev. T. Raymond Sullivan was not your average parish priest. A high school dropout, he was a veteran of the Navy and a welder at Fore River Shipyard in Quincy when he answered the call of God.
After his ordination, he was a missionary in Kenya, where he drank blood-laced milk with Masai warriors, and a wartime chaplain in Vietnam before settling down to serve a number of parish assignments in Greater Boston.
Father Sullivan, who died of a pulmonary embolism at the age of 67 Monday in Nashoba Valley Hospital in Ayer, told the Boston Herald in 1966: "Ilike adventure. But I suppose that sense of adventure leaves as soon as one steps off the plane, doesn't it? More important, I like serving people."
A tall, rugged man, Father Sullivan was born in Nashua and raised in Groton. He dropped out of high school before serving in the Navy from 1945 to 1946 and worked in a paper mill before becoming a welder at the Fore River Shipyard.
He graduated from Lawrence Academy at the age of 22 and earned bachelor's and master's degrees at St. John's Seminary in Brighton before his ordination in 1957.
He subsequently served two years as assistant pastor of St. Mary's Church in Dracut, before Cardinal Richard Cushing enlisted him to serve as a missionary in Kenya with the Kikuyu Tribe. A sect of the Kikuyu became known to the outside world as the Mau Maus, terrorists who at the time of Father Sullivan's arrival in the country had killed thousands of fellow tribesman and about 100 whites, including missionaries.
But Father Sullivan dismissed the threat, telling an interviewer at the time, "I only got scared when I read about it in Time magazine." He said he was more frightened by the insects in Africa. "The ants," he said, "had claws like lobsters."
During his four years in Kenya, Father Sullivan wore a white robe he called his "Lawrence of Arabia" outfit and never went out at night without rifle in hand, more for appearance than protection. He said he'd never be able to use it.
On ceremonial occasions, he was required to drink blood-laced milk with Masai warriors who visited him with spears in hand. Unfortunately, he said, they watched to see your Adam's apple bob to make sure your were really drinking.
His lack of facility with the Swahili language sometimes caused him problems. Once, after arriving several hours late for an appointment, he explained in his best Swahili to a nun that he was delayed by car trouble.
"Unfortunately," he said, "the word for trouble and wife are almost the same. Apparently what I told her was I was delayed because of my marriage."
Though he claimed he would never have the nerve to shoot an animal, he was a charter member of actor William Holden's Safari Club in an old hotel on Mt. Kenya.
Father Sullivan returned to the United States in 1963 and spent a year on a speaking tour to raise money for the mission in Kenya.
In 1964, he became a chaplain in the Air Force. He was twice refused service in Vietnam, but finally buttonholed a high ranking officer at a party and plead his case. He was stationed in Pleiku.
After his return from Vietnam, he served in several local parishes and was pastor of St. Mary Magdalen Church in Tyngsborough from 1984 until earlier this year, when he became parochial vicar at St. Mary's Church in Ayer.
He leaves two brothers, Richard of Townsend and Philip of Winchendon.
A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Mary's Church in Ayer. Burial will be in St. Joseph's Cemetery in Pepperell.
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