A year ago at this time Deacon Timothy Sullivan was living happily in Tulsa, Okla., and had never even heard of Newark, N.Y.
What a difference a year can make.
Deacon Sullivan is now the executive director of Newark-based Catholic Charities of Wayne County. He and his wife, Connie, are in the process of purchasing a home in Newark and plan to become active at St. Michael Parish.
Deacon Sullivan may have been a stranger to the Newark area when he took up his post in February, but he was no stranger to the Catholic Church and the work done by Catholic Charities. Before moving to upstate New York he was executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Tulsa, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
"The church has been my life since about 1994," Deacon Sullivan told the Catholic Courier.
His prayer life and devotion to the church first attained a deeper level in July 1988, when he had a conversion experience while attending a repentance service at an Ohio conference devoted to marriage and family life.
"I was just going through the motions of what the prayer leader was asking people to do when all the sudden I had this experience of God’s presence being in me, as if he had invaded every cell of my being," Deacon Sullivan recalled.
He suddenly knew with certainty that God and God’s love for him were both very real.
"It was exhilarating. That really changed my life, and for the first time I really started praying with an expectation that I would get an answer," he said.
The next morning Deacon Sullivan attended Mass and discovered another surprise while listening to the day’s Scripture readings.
"For the first time they really came alive for me, and I realized God had given me a real hunger to study Scripture, but also some understanding of the themes of Scripture. My love for the Bible has been very strong since that day," he said.
Although it’s been nearly 20 years since that fateful conference, Deacon Sullivan still gets choked up when he recalls his conversion experience.
"It just changed my life so drastically, and I wasn’t looking for anything. I wasn’t asking for anything. It just came out of nowhere," he said. "It think my life was good before, but since then the things that have happened have just been unbelievable."
A graduate of Notre Dame Law School, Deacon Sullivan had been practicing civil and commercial law in Tulsa since 1976. After his conversion experience he founded Brother House of Tulsa, an ecumenical men’s ministry. In 1994 he left his law firm, which he had managed for 11 years, to become family-life director for the Diocese of Tulsa. While there he coauthored a book, titled Signposts: How To Be a Catholic Man in the World Today, which was published in 1999.
In 2000 Deacon Sullivan’s life got much busier. That year he was ordained a permanent deacon and became executive director of Tulsa’s diocesan Catholic Charities, all while still serving as the diocesan family-life coordinator. He stepped down from the family-life post in 2006 to focus on his responsibilities with Catholic Charities, where he led a capital campaign that raised $19 million and directed the agency’s annual appeal.
In late 2007 he began to feel restless, however.
"I just felt last fall that God had something else in store for me, and so I started exploring different options and saw an opportunity in Newark, N.Y., which I had no idea where that was," Deacon Sullivan said.
He applied for the position anyway. Things eventually fell into place and he and his wife decided they needed to move to Newark, even though it was hard leaving behind in Tulsa several members of their tight-knit family. Deacon Sullivan took his new post Feb. 4 and said he is excited to work with Catholic Charities of Wayne County’s board of directors to expand the agency’s offerings.
He and the board members hope to work more in collaboration with Wayne County’s Catholic parishioners, he said. He invited local parishes’ social-ministry coordinators to meet with him June 17 to discuss their ideas and vision for Wayne County.
"There are many things that they do locally that probably we can’t do, but we can do some things on a bigger scale that they can’t, and we have more resources so we can support the work they do," Deacon Sullivan said.
The social ministers shared some great ideas with him and told him they’d like to see the agency become more involved in emergency assistance, he said. Right now many of the agency’s resources and staff members are devoted to counseling programs.
Deacon Sullivan said he’s looking forward to tackling the challenges posed by the economic difficulties in upstate New York and especially in Wayne County.
"I’m optimistic that we can improve and increase the (programs) we’re doing here," he said.