From the Headmaster of Portora

T.J. Garrett.

Former Principal of Portora Royal School, T.J. Garrett, looking back 100 years later on the outstanding academic achievements of the young John Sullivan, and at those who had mentored and influenced him during his time at the school in Enniskillen.

From the Headmaster of Portora

As headmaster of the school which honours the name of John Sullivan among its most distinguished pupils, I feel very privileged at having been asked to write a few words by way of a preface to Father Keelaghan’s brief study of this great and saintly man. It is exactly one hundred years ago since the young John Sullivan as a pupil at Portora Royal School, was awarded a prize in Holy Scripture. This was just one among many prizes which he won during a period when this old Irish school- under the guidance of a good man and a great headmaster, the Reverend Doctor Steele- was academically at the height of its powers. John Sullivan’s splendid academic record at Portora is itself a testimony to the enormous interest which Dr. Stele must have taken in a young boy from Dublin, and I like to think that the influence of Dr. Steele also stood by the young Jesuit Father Sullivan as he embarked upon his own teaching career at that other great Irish school, Clongowes Wood College; and in later years too, as his life increasingly exemplified the highest Christian virtues, the simple precepts instilled into the boy during his years at Portora may well have sustained him in his constant devotion to Christ.

Among the many men of high achievement who enjoyed their early education at Portora in the nineteenth century, two in particular left their distinctive mark upon the life of the spirit. One was Father John Sullivan, and the other Henry Francis Lyte. H.F. Lyte had been a pupil at Portora some seventy years before John Sullivan, but the lovely hymns which he wrote in later life, among them “Praise my soul, the King of Heaven”, and that most popular of all hymns “Abide with me”, must have been familiar to that generation of Portorans which included John Sullivan. It is, I suppose, entirely possible, that as a boy John Sullivan may well have sung in school chapel that hymn by Lyte, the first verse of which to my mind sums up very beautifully the life of consecration and discipleship to which John Sullivan was eventually to give himself:

Jesus, I my cross have taken,                                              
          All to leave and follow Thee
                   Destitute, despised, forsaken,
                            Thou from hence my all shalt be.
                                     Perish every fond ambition,
                                              All I’ve sought, and hoped, and known;
                                                       Yet how rich is my condition!
                                                                God and heaven are still my own.

How rich, too, our condition, that one hundred years after the boy John Sullivan received his prize at Portora, we can dwell upon and learn from the life of this good man, and recall with reverence the selfless devotion that he showed to his people.

          For this we know, in joy and woe,
          That saints will aid if men will call.

T.J. Garrett,
          Portora Royal School, Enniskillen
                   (January 1977)