Msgr. T. Brendan O’Sullivan, a long-respected and beloved priest of the diocese for 63 years who served as pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Sacramento from 1974 to 2005, died July 17 at Mercy McMahon Terrace in Sacramento. He was 88.
Bishop Jaime Soto will preside at a funeral Mass for Msgr. O’Sullivan on Monday, July 29 at 10:30 a.m. in St. Anthony Church, at 660 Florin Road in Sacramento. Bishop Emeritus William K. Weigand will concelebrate and Father Daniel Looney will be the homilist. A reception will follow the Mass in the parish center. Burial will follow the reception at Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Citrus Heights.
A vigil service will be held on Sunday, July 28 at 5 p.m. in St. Anthony Church. Father Michael Kiernan will preside. Viewing will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Msgr. O’Sullivan was pastor emeritus of St. Anthony Parish since his retirement in October 2005. In the years following his retirement, he continued to celebrate Mass at Sacramento-area parishes, including several years at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. Since 2014, he resided at Mercy McMahon Terrace in Sacramento and celebrated Mass for residents.
Msgr. O’Sullivan was named a prelate of honor by Pope Benedict XVI on Dec. 29, 2005. While serving as pastor of St. Anthony, he held other leadership roles in the diocese. These included director of continuing education for priests from 1991 to 2005, dean of the city deanery, a member of the Presbyteral Council, chairman of the Priests’ Personnel Board, and an advisor to the permanent diaconate, in pastoral planning and the diocesan synod process.
In an interview with The Catholic Herald newspaper upon his retirement, Msgr. O’Sullivan said as each chapter of his priestly ministry unfolded – whether as pastor, university chaplain or educator – he found fulfillment simply as a living witness of the Catholic faith to the people he encountered in his ministry.
“I’m grateful for the many opportunities I’ve had to serve and to apply whatever talent I have,” he said. “Every phase of my ministry has been very fulfilling. It wasn’t something so much that I looked for, as I was given. And whatever hesitation or concern I had at the beginning of an assignment, I grew to love that ministry.”
Known for his warm, genial manner, Msgr. O’Sullivan told The Herald his relationships with people – from students to theologians to people in the pews – helped him carry out the spirit and content of the Second Vatican Council in his pastoral ministry over more than six decades.
His first thoughts about entering the priesthood were influenced by the priests in his home parish of St. Michael in the village of Cahermore, County Cork, in rural southwestern Ireland. The eighth in a family of six sons and six daughters, his family lived across the street from the church.
“The priests were frequent visitors to our home and I was very impressed with their caliber and character. We were friends,” he said. “Their example, their work and their ministry made the priesthood very attractive to me. They were educated, good liturgists and good homilists.”
After attending a high school run by the Mill Hill Fathers in County Kilkenny, he decided before graduation in 1950 to enter St. Patrick’s Seminary in Thurles. He was ordained to the priesthood there on June 10, 1956 for service in the Diocese of Sacramento.
His early assignments took him as an assistant pastor to St. Joseph Parish in Redding from 1956 to 1958; St. Patrick Parish in Grass Valley from 1958 to 1959; and St. Joseph Parish in Fortuna from 1959 to 1962.
He recalled with enthusiasm his time in Fortuna, just prior to Vatican II, when “people were anxious for change.” He began celebrating some parts of the Mass in English and went to parishioners’ homes during the week so they could “practice” hymns in English for the Sunday liturgy. “Those were times I can’t forget – people were so excited about their new participation,” he said.
In 1962, he was named chaplain of the Newman Catholic Center at UC Davis and also assistant pastor of St. James Parish in Davis, where he served for three years. The opportunities offered in the university setting meshed well with his intellectual curiosity. “I absolutely enjoyed the profound discussions in professors’ homes. There were seminars of the highest quality and I just loved it,” he said.
He returned to Sacramento in 1965 to serve for the next seven years as chairman of the religion department and a counselor at St. Francis High School, while also serving as chaplain to the Newman Club at American River College. During this time he also served as assistant pastor of St. Lawrence Parish in North Highlands and was in residence at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Carmichael and Immaculate Conception Parish in Sacramento.
At St. Francis, he taught sophomores to seniors, often with a focus on explaining the new documents of Vatican II. During this time he completed a master’s degree in systematic theology through the summer program at the University of San Francisco. He also assisted his longtime friend, the late Msgr. Edmund O’Neill, in bringing Vatican II scholars from USF to Sacramento to make presentations and dialogue with the priests of the diocese. “That was really the beginning of continuing education of the clergy,” he said.
In 1972-73, Msgr. O’Sullivan took a sabbatical year and an assignment as a faculty member and director of campus ministry at the College of Notre Dame (now Notre Dame de Namur University) in Belmont and planned to study for a doctorate at Stanford University. Before he could enroll, he was called back to the diocese in September 1973 because of a shortage of priests.
Assigned to St. Joseph Parish in Clarksburg, a year later on Sept. 1, 1974, he was named the founding pastor of St. Anthony Parish in the growing Greenhaven-Pocket area of Sacramento.
In its early years, the parish consisted of a few hundred families meeting in a hall loaned by the Holy Spirit Portuguese Society. Three decades later when he retired, some 2,000 families made up one of the most active parishes in the diocese, with more than 30 different ministries in which laity were involved.
During his tenure, Msgr. O’Sullivan oversaw the building of the church, religious education center and rectory, completed in 1979. In 1996, a two-year campaign culminated in the completion of a $2 million memorial center, a multipurpose facility utilized by parishioners and the surrounding community for many events.
Msgr. O’Sullivan told The Herald he recognized early on how the familial character of his congregation and his own desire to consult and collaborate with parishioners of various expertise would set the tone for his 31-year pastorate.
“I recognized the great gifts people had, the expertise they had, and I drew heavily on it,” he said. “I engaged in conversation, advice at meetings, and arriving at a consensus about which direction to go. The lay leaders taught me a whole lot about how to administer a new parish. They had these talents by profession and by vocation. I never felt threatened by an overuse of lay power, because it was something I never experienced here.”
He was known by parishioners for his gift of tying the Scriptures of the day into a thoughtful homily, often challenging laity to reflect on pressing issues facing the church and to assume responsibility for their faith lives and for civic participation. “I couldn’t treat my homilies lightly,” he said. “I had to take time, out of respect for people and myself, to offer substantial nourishment, encouragement and hope.”
At his retirement, he told The Herald he would miss interacting daily with parishioners in ways only a pastor can do.
“I could never cease to be amazed how people invited me into their very private lives in times of sadness and celebration,” he said. “They trusted me with exceedingly confidential things about their own lives and families, and I really felt privileged and honored by the association. I’m really grateful for the gift of my priesthood. It’s been a very rewarding experience.”
Msgr. O’Sullivan was preceded in death by his parents, John and Mary, and eight siblings. He is survived by sisters, Anne Holland of San Jose, California, Julia O’Sullivan of England and Tess O’Sullivan of Ireland; and numerous nephews and nieces.