The end-of-school year liturgy provided a beginning as well at Bishop O'Dowd High School. Students gathered in the Oakland school's large gym for the May 13 Mass, celebrated by Rev. Jim Sullivan.
LISA COFFEY-MAHONEY/BISHOP O'DOWD HIGH SCHOOL COURTESY PHOTO
Father Sullivan joins BOD as religion teacher, chaplain
When students converge on Bishop O'Dowd High School Aug. 21 for the first day of classes, there will be a new chaplain in town; Father Jim Sullivan.
Father Sullivan is fresh off the 6,000-family parish of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Brentwood. Now he has 1,200 young charges and a faculty and staff of more than 100.
He'll celebrate Mass daily at 7:45 a.m., before the first classes, but not before the busy campus is already alive with athletes, musicians and scholars getting a jump on the day.
"What I look forward to," he said, "being with teenagers. I was a youth minister for years, even before I became a seminarian."
"There's something about their enthusiasm, their boundless energy," he said. "There's something about those years."
He considers his ability to work with young people — he has led several pilgrimages, including some to World Youth Day — a charism. "A gift," he said.
"In spite of my quarter-century of working with the young," he said he was surprised by the invitation of Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, to serve at Bishop O'Dowd, a diocesan high school founded in 1951.
"It was a total curveball," Father Sullivan said. "I never saw this coming."
Father Sullivan's vocation came later in life. "I became a priest to work in the parishes," he said. The idea of campus or chaplaincy didn't cross his mind.
He has made a half-dozen trips to the Oakland campus, culminating in a memorable end-of-the-school year Mass at which he was introduced as the new chaplain.
On each of those previous visits, he said, "I came away totally charged up."
"I hope they like me," he said before meeting the student body for the first time.
It was the first time, too, working with the school's Campus Ministry Team, which presented skits. He complimented the students on some of the activities he had seen, including a Black History Month presentation and a performance of the spring musical, "Hairspray."
In addition to his duties as chaplain, Father Sullivan will be teaching Christian Scripture in the religious studies department.
He'll be working with some of the youngest students on campus in the classroom, which delights him."I'll be with them right through their graduation," he said.
He has a great appreciation for teachers. "My dad was a high school teacher," he said. "There's a real gift to be able to do that five periods a day."
Thankfully, with the block scheduling, he won't have five periods of classes a day. In his campus ministry role, he will be involved in retreats, service projects and special events.
He is publishing "The Rosary and the Psalms," written with his late mother, Sara Sullivan, the companion book to their "The Rosary and The Gospel."
His books, written under the name Father Brawn Sullivan, are available through Catholic California Press. "The Season of Grief," Father Sullivan said, "t'was the closing the chapter on my grief" after the death of his mother.
Father Sullivan was formed by his work at four parishes in the Diocese of Oakland. The first was St. Charles Borromeo in Livermore, where he served as a deacon and celebrated his first Mass after his ordination in 2006. "I became a priest there," he said.
Next was an "over-the-top, awesome" experience at Catholic Community of Pleasanton, followed by four years at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Fremont, a congregation, "so receptive, so warm, so loving."
Not only did the land near Immaculate Heart of Mary remind him of Marysville, where he grew up, but "the depth of faith out there, the joy of the faith" made an impression on him.
The parishes all had one thing in common. "The ones I've been in are all awesome," he said.
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