Catholic Charities Mourns the Passing of Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan

It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Most Reverend Joseph M. Sullivan, DD, Retired Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn. An ardent advocate for social justice, Bishop Sullivan dedicated more than 50 years to improving the lives of New Yorkers in need. “The Board of Trustees, administration, dedicated staff and supporters of Catholic Charities, extend their thoughts and prayers to the Sullivan family at this difficult time,” said Robert Siebel, Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Charities.

"During his tenure, Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens became a nationally recognized provider of social services,” said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio. “Even in retirement, Bishop Joe continued to serve on many boards for Catholic hospitals and health institutions. He epitomized the best of our Church’s teaching and the fundamental option for the poor. He was an outstanding priest.”

A tireless leader, mentor and friend, we are eternally grateful for his vision, leadership and unwavering service to our neighbors in need. “One cannot look back on the last half-century of Catholic Charities without seeing the indelible handprint of Bishop Joseph Sullivan,” said Robert Siebel.  “His life’s work is a legacy of faith, selfless service and devotion to improving the lives of the people of New York, and it will continue to flourish.”

Bishop Sullivan’s leadership was instrumental in expanding Catholic Charities into a vast network of services with over 160 programs and services throughout Brooklyn and Queens.  First appointed to Catholic Charities in 1959, Bishop Sullivan served as Executive Director from 1968 to 1979.  Bishop Sullivan was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Brooklyn in 1956 and was assigned to Our Lady of Lourdes, a parish in Queens Village.  In 1959, he was appointed to Catholic Charities and was named Executive Director in 1968 and served in that capacity until 1979. Bishop Sullivan also served as President and Member of the Board of Trustees of Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens.

Bishop Sullivan led the Cadre Study in the 1970s, a renewed Catholic Charities Movement (commonly known as the Cadre Study) with its triple goals of quality service to people in need, humanizing and transforming society, and calling the larger church and society to join the National Conference of Catholic Charities (now Catholic Charities USA) in this struggle.

Bishop Sullivanwas ordained Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn in 1980 and was subsequently appointed Vicar for Human Services of the Diocese of Brooklyn.  He was the Chair of the Board of Trustees (1974-1975) and Episcopal Liaison (1982-2000) of Catholic Charities USA and was a member of the 20th Century Task Force on Housing. He also served as Vice President of the Board of Directors of the Community Council of Greater New York, and President of Fidelis Care, New York. 

In New York City, he served on Mayor Koch’s Commission 2000 on the Future of New York City, the Charter Revision Committee on NYC, Commission on the Homeless and the Personnel Selection Committees of Mayors Koch and Dinkins and Governors Carey and Cuomo. Well respected by city officials, Bishop Sullivan also became one of the late Mayor Koch’s trusted friends.

In 2009, Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens honored Bishop Sullivan with the prestigious Bishop’s Humanitarian Award. At the event, local leaders were in attendance, such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Mayors Edward Koch and David Dinkins as well as former New York City Council Speaker, Peter Vallone, Sr.

In addition, he served on the New York State Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century and United Hospital Fund’s Leadership Committee for the Strategic Health Initiatives for New York. He has served on various committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, New York State Catholic Conference, and numerous health and social service organizations. He was the past Chairperson of the Catholic Health Association Board of Trustees and served on the Boards of Sisters of Mercy Health System in St. Louis, United Hospital Fund, Health and Hospitals Corporation of the City of New York, Health System Agency of New York City and New York State Healthcare Trustees.  He was a board member of Milbank Memorial Fund, North Fork Bank Foundation and Our Sunday Visitor Institute.

Born March 23, 1930 and raised in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, Bishop Sullivan attended St. Michael’s Diocesan High School, Manhattan College and the Immaculate Conception Seminary.  He received a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Fordham University and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from New York University.

“As we mourn his passing, it is my greatest wish that his legacy continues to grow,” said Robert Siebel. “Bishop Sullivan has helped us realize our Christian ministry. What he set in so many hearts is a drive to serve and help others. They will know we are Christians by our love.  Bishop Sullivan exemplified that,” said Robert. 

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