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7 Things About Father Jim Sullivan

What inspired you to do this kind of work?

I never dreamed of teaching high school or of working in Campus Ministry at any level of education. I assumed I would spend my career for the Diocese of Oakland in the parishes. Of course, I never dreamed of being a youth minister, either, and yet I did that for eight years back in the ’90s. I had been teaching the Confirmation class at my home parish in Marysville for three years (ALSO a position I never applied for!) when the parish’s youth minister decided to move on to adult faith formation. The pastor came to me and said, “The kids are asking for you, Jim; they know you from the Confirmation class and they want you to take over the youth ministry.” That was in Marysville, in the autumn of 1995, and I can draw a direct line from that decision to my coming to O’Dowd in the autumn of 2015. Though I never planned to teach high school, youth ministry and teen catechesis have defined my career (if that’s the word for it) in the Church, both as a seminarian and as a priest. O’Dowd is the crowning achievement of my work with the young.

What is your position here and how long have you worked at O’Dowd?

My title is chaplain and I work in both Campus Ministry and the Religious Studies Department. I started in 2015.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

I did not receive this advice, but appropriated it for myself, from two very different sources. I like what Mae West once said about self-reliance: “Whenever I’ve needed a helping hand the first place I’ve looked is the end of my arm.” That is not to say I’m not happy to accept help or that I am not a team player. It is just to say that I believe in developing my own capacities to their fullest potential. St. Augustine puts this same self-reliance in proper perspective when he advises: “Work as if everything depends on you. Pray as if everything depends on God.”

What is your favorite thing about your job?

Oh come on! There are 1,200+ favorites about my job! Every single one of our students. If I have a regret here, is that I cannot get to know them all.

What about your field or position do you think would surprise people the most?

I think people might be surprised to learn how much I rely on my parish (St. Clement in Hayward) to power me up for the demands and responsibilities of the O’Dowd chaplaincy. I have three masters degrees, but not one education class in all that range of graduate study. I have been on a learning curve here from day one. In the parish, I know what I am doing. My parishioners love the fact that I chose to live and minister at St. Clement, and they really support me in my efforts with the teens here at O’Dowd. They love it when I talk about my adventures here in my homilies. They want me to succeed and are hugely supportive. I am grateful to them.

What is the most interesting or surprising thing about you?

This is no surprise to people who know me, but I have been writing – books, I mean – since my twenties. I worked with several New York agents in the ’80s and ’90s, but never broke print. Three years after I was ordained, I published my first book (about, take a wild guess, my adventures in youth ministry). This winter I am publishing my eighth book. My publisher is in LA, incidentally; ironic, when I think of all those trips to Manhattan to meet agents and editors back when I was young!

If you could rescue only one thing from your burning office, what would it be?

My palm tree because it’s alive!

What is your favorite kind of music/what are your favorite bands?

My favorite type of music is jazz – all varieties from Dixieland to progressive. I do not have any favorite bands but my favorite jazz musicians are Herb Alpert and Rick Braun. Love jazz trumpet.

What is your favorite sports team or who is your favorite individual athlete?

I had never been a sports fan of any kind until I got to O’Dowd. I love ALL our teams!


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