Ambassador of Peace Bishop Walter Sullivan
Bishop Walter Sullivan speaking at an anti-torture rally in 2007. Bishop Sullivan died today at 84.

We just learned a short time ago that Bishop Walter Sullivan, who had served as bishop-president of Pax Christi USA from 1991 to 2003, has passed away. Pax Christi USA will be issuing a press release shortly and will post reflections, stories, and photos of Bishop Sullivan on the website soon. In the meantime, I would like to direct you to this story from the National Catholic Reporter, which includes a short slideshow of Bishop Sullivan as well. Bishop Sullivan was a good an holy man, full of kindness and humor and a great prophet within our movement. We give thanks for his life and witness.

by John H. Allen, National Catholic Reporter

One of the celebrated “Jadot bishops,” meaning progressive American prelates appointed under Pope Paul VI during the 1970s, Walter Sullivan led the Richmond, Virginia, diocese for almost 30 years, and from that perch became one of the country’s premier “peace bishops,” denouncing armed conflict from Vietnam and the Cold War all the way up to Iraq.

“He just could not reconcile war and Christianity,” said Phyllis Theroux, a Virginia-based author whose biography of Sullivan, titled The Good Bishop, is slated to appear from Orbis Books in May.

“He once said that as far as I’m concerned, you can take the whole ‘just war’ tradition and stick it in a drawer and lock it up,” she said, adding that Sullivan believed the idea of a just war had been “abused” by both clergy and politicians.

Bishop Walter Sullivan died Dec. 10 as a result of an inoperable liver cancer, after having returned to his Richmond home from a local hospital. He was 84…

Read more of the obituary and see a slideshow on NCR’s site by clicking here.

8 thoughts on “OBITUARY: Bishop Walter Sullivan, long-time bishop-president of Pax Christi USA, dies

  1. My heart is heavy at his passing, but my spirit rejoices that he is at peace and at home in heaven. I worked for him as director of the Richmond Diocese’s Appalachian Office of Justice and Peace, and he was a strong supporter of the mountains. God bless him!

    1. Kathy — were you involved with the beautiful pastoral letter about Appalacha, “This Too is Home to Me?” I”m not sure if I have the exact title right but it touched me deeply. Was Bishop Sullivan involved with its writing? Peace and prayerful sympathy to you, Judy M Holmes

      1. Judy,
        Bishop Sullivan signed both Appalachian pastoral letters, “This Land is Home to Me” in 1975 and “At Home in the Web of Life” in 1995. He helped draft the latter. I did not help draft either one, but I cheer them both. The first letter was a model for people in Latin America and helped them find their own voice to speak about the oppression they experienced. I have met Catholic leaders from around the world who have read those letters. One can get them from the Catholic Committee of Appalachia, at

  2. I met him in 1973 when I was a student at Mary Washington College prior to the diocesan split into Arlington and Richmond dioceses. He was gracious and kind. I gave him a Valentine…it must have been in February when he came to visit our college campus ministry and said Mass with Fr. Mike Burch who was campus minister then. I then moved to Memphis about 8 years ago, that was also headed by Bishop Carroll Dozier who was active in Pax Christi here too….I am so blessed by knowing that set a great example to follow in their footsteps in bringing the cries of justice to many who are broken in Memphis and Virginia! Presente!
    Bishop Sullivan and Bishop Dozier!

  3. In Latin America there is a general call for bishops like Archbishop Oscar Romero. We here in the US should be putting out a demand to the Vatican for bishops like Walter Sullivan. He and Bishop Tom Gumbleton have carried the torch for Justice and Peace during recent decades of darkness in the Church and world.

  4. Bishop Sullivan’s support for non-violence has been crucial. We hope that those holding the reigns of power will see the greatness of his stance on peace making,

  5. Bishop Sullivan had the courage to stand up for peace with justice. I remember the note he sent to me when I had a medical emergency, I was so touch by his compassion. I wonder do we have any Bishops left that have the courage to speak to Catholic Social Teachings like Bishop Sullivan.

  6. I went to grade school with Walter Sullivan at Blessed Sacrament in Washington, D.C. He was two years ahead of our class. When he became Bishop of Richmond, another Blessed Sacrament student, David Foley, was sent to Richmond as well. There were those who said David was there to be a counterpoint to Walter! (David is now the retired bishop of Birmingham, Alabama.)
    In the late 90s I attended a Mass at the Cathedral for the families and friends of gays and lesbians, with Walter Sullivan as the celebrant. It was beautiful and touching — those who had been shunned by others in the Church were welcomed by Bishop Sullivan.
    There were complaints by some clergy about the “foolishness” coming from Richmond, in those days after Vatican II and before the division of the diocese. After the division some of us wondered if we could stay in Northern Virginia but remain members of the Richmond Diocese. Yes, a foolish and fruitless desire, but revealing a yearning for a bishop who was truly a Man of God who preached the gospel and lived it well.

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