Dear Editor: I feel compelled to write after returning from the Mass of the Resurrection for Sister Kathleen Sullivan, C.S.J. Sister Kathleen was a legendary educator and the “unofficial mayor” of Park Slope. She was the principal of St. Francis Xavier School for 42 years. Bishop James Massa, at the end of Mass, graciously acknowledged Sister’s long commitment to Catholic education in Brooklyn.
Behind those lilting blue Irish eyes was a women of faith, discipline, determination and abounding compassion. A strong leader and take-charge personality, she took a school in trouble and turned it around. She became my mentor when I first began teaching at St. Francis Xavier in 1978. Over the next eight years and the decades that followed after I moved on from SFX, she became a cherished friend.
Her religious life was at the center of her being, but she possessed “street smarts” beyond most of us. You could depend on her to “tell it like it is.” She knew her faculty and even though there was no confusion as to who was in charge, she delegated to each tasks that fit our talents.
She also knew her students and their families. She took control when the situation dictated (and sometimes when it didn’t). Countless visits to doctors, dentists and counselors for her students were covered by simply saying Sister Kathleen sent me (of course her phone calls first made to the professionals made it clear there would be no charge).
When someone needed a job, she always had a connection. Students returned as adults for her counsel and advice, bringing her their children to commit to her care. She was also a match maker. When my wife of 32 years, Ginny, was hired Sister Kathleen announced, “I just hired the girl for you.”
Once again, she was right. We married while both teaching there and we entrusted our four children to her care for their grammar school education. We were just one of her many matchmaking successes!
Msgr. John O’Brien’s homily centered around the theme ‘protector,’ liking her to the patron of her beloved congregation, the Sisters of Saint Joseph. It was said so well. There were so many who were helped by Sister Kathleen. Among the scores of Facebook entries over the days after her death, one former student (who traveled from Virginia for the funeral) wrote, “We all know that everyone in Heaven is walking a straight line today.”
Upon entering into the eternal life, she worked toward while on Earth, I believe she is telling God what needs to be done to straighten things out down here! May she rest in peace. There will never be another like her.