By CrossRoads Staff
On June 5, Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv. ordained two new deacons for the Catholic Diocese of Lexington. One of them, seminarian Ben Horn, is studying for the priesthood. The other, Lexington Catholic High School teacher Brendan O’Sullivan, is a husband and a father who will serve the Church in central and eastern Kentucky as a permanent deacon.
An ancient ordained ministry of service that was reinstated by Pope Paul VI in 1968, the permanent diaconate is open to married men, and the Lexington diocese currently has around 90 permanent deacons.
Deacon O’Sullivan, 36, was born in Dallas and moved to Wilmore, Kentucky, with his family in seventh grade. The family relocated to Lexington four years later. After coming into the Catholic Church as a young adult, he worked as coordinator of youth and campus ministry at Sts. Peter and Paul in Danville, followed by an internship and residency as a hospital chaplain at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. He spent a year in seminary and would go on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from St. Meinrad’s. In 2010, met his wife, Beth. The two have been married 10 years and have three children. Beth teaches at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School in Lexington, and Brendan has taught at Lexington Catholic High School for almost nine years.
Cross Roads: Tell us about your journey into the Church?
Brendan O’Sullivan: Growing up, my family did not practice any faith, which led me to seek and explore different faiths and religions during my high school and early college years. Through the loving Christian witness of many friends and mentors over the years, God led me to the Christian faith and baptism, and eventually to full communion with the Catholic Church in 2005. I credit my grandparents, Thomas and Theresa, with my decision to become Catholic. They never pressured me, but were always a steady example of unconditional love in my life, and they were practicing Catholics.
After becoming Catholic, I began volunteering and helping with youth ministry at the cathedral. This changed the course of my life. It was through serving in youth ministry that I came to understand God’s call in my life, which was to minister to his people, especially high school and college-aged youth.
CR: How did you discern your vocation as a permanent deacon?
O’Sullivan: My discernment for the permanent diaconate began back in 2015, when I heard that there was a new class forming. As soon as I heard, I felt drawn to the idea of serving the Church as a deacon. At that point, I had earned two degrees in theology and had been working as a lay minister for several years. I knew many deacons, and there was one that I particularly looked up to as an example of faith that I had attended St. Meinrad with for a brief period of time. So I decided to apply to enter the discernment process.
Even though I was the youngest in the class, during those five years, God worked in my heart, and helped me to grow a great deal. Throughout the process, the Lord provided for my family and me. We had friends that watched our children so that Beth and I could attend classes each month. My wife made many sacrifices as well, and as difficult as it was at times, we grew in our marriage during those years. My time in formation was a blessing, and I grew tremendously as a person and a minister, and throughout those years, the Lord continued to affirm me, even in my doubts and my most difficult moments.
CR: What are some experiences that deepened your faith?
O’Sullivan: There have been countless times that I have experienced the love and mercy of God through the sacraments and the love of others. A couple of years ago I went on a silent retreat. During those days of prayer, God revealed to me through the intercession of Saint Therese of Lisieux in a very powerful way, just how small I am, and how loving and merciful he is. I learned that in my own weakness and sinfulness, and in all of the times that I fail and fall short, God is there in my midst. Since that experience, God has continued to reveal his mercy to me in new ways, and has called me to dedicate my ministry as a deacon to revealing his love and mercy to others as I serve his people.
CR: What will you be doing in your ordained ministry?
O’Sullivan: Currently I will be serving at the [Holy Spirit Parish/UK] Newman Center, where I will be assisting my pastor with the Sunday liturgies, as well as performing baptisms, weddings, and funerals. I will also continue to be active in campus ministry at my parish by working with students, leading Eucharistic adoration and benediction, and facilitating group studies, with a special mission of reaching out to those on the margins. At the heart of a deacon’s ministry is service to the community and those in need. It is why deacons exist. My hope is to continue to be drawn deeper and deeper into that calling.
CR: What might people be surprised to learn about you?
O’Sullivan: I once was a ballroom dancing instructor. It seems like that was another life, but I still remember much of it.
CR: What do you love most about the Catholic Church?
O’Sullivan: The sacraments, and most especially the Eucharist. As a person that has lived without them, I know how precious they truly are.
Sometimes we go through very painful experiences in our life. Our Church is a family, and like our domestic families, it can be very imperfect at times, because it is made up of very imperfect people, myself included. And when people in the Church hurt us, or seem to be uncaring or indifferent to our needs, it can be painful, and can cause us to want to leave. But the sacraments are what set our Church apart, because wherever the sacraments are, Jesus is. He meets us through each and every one in such a real and tangible way. I have received so much mercy and forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation.
I have found hope and healing while sick through anointing, and have grown in love and charity through the sacrament of marriage. All of my sacraments of initiation were grace-filled moments, surrounded by the support and care of God’s people, and every Sunday I get to be united with Jesus in a way that before I had never thought possible, by receiving Him in the Eucharist.
In that moment, I am united not only with Jesus, but also with every other Catholic I have ever loved around the world, and with some of my best friends in heaven. To now be a part of bringing those sacraments into the lives of others is an honor I am not worthy of, and one that I am eternally grateful for.