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Let us pray in thanksgiving for the life of Fr. William (Bill) J. Sullivan, SJ, who died at St. Camillus Jesuit Community in Wauwatosa, Wis., on June 16, 2015. He was 84 years old, a Jesuit for 66 years, and a priest for 53 years. May he rest in peace.
Born in Freeport, Ill., on December 20, 1930, Bill spent most of his childhood in Prairie du Chien, Wis., where he attended St. Gabriel's Grade School and Campion Jesuit High School as a day student. He entered the Society of Jesus at St. Stanislaus Seminary in Florissant, Mo., and his early course of studies was usual, with classes at St. Stanislaus and St. Louis University. Bill completed his theology studies at Fourvière in Lyon, France, was ordained a priest on September 2, 1961, made tertianship in Münster, Germany, and pronounced final vows on August 15, 1965.
During his regency, Bill taught Latin and Greek at Creighton Prep in Omaha, Neb. Following his ordination, he continued studying theology, first in Heidelberg, Germany, then at Yale University, where he earned a Ph.D. Bill taught at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis., first while completing his Ph.D. in the late 1960s and again in the mid-1970s. He also served as dean of St. Louis University's School of Divinity from 1971-1975. Bill committed most of his life, however, to the apostolic work of Seattle University. He served as the school's provost from 1975-1976 and its president from 1976-1996. As president, Bill helped grow Seattle University into a premier university of the Northwest. He increased enrollment, added numerous programs, brought a law school to campus, founded the School of Theology and Ministry, built the architecturally renowned Chapel of St. Ignatius, increased scholarships, and steered the university onto a course of financial stability. His vision for Seattle University was always guided by mission. This sometimes made him a contrarian figure, such as when he decided to remove the men's basketball team from the NCAA. More broadly, Bill helped reshape contemporary Jesuit higher education in the United States.
Following a stroke, Bill stepped down as president in 1996. He remained at Seattle University as the school's first president emeritus and chancellor. In 2009, health concerns brought him to St. Camillus, where he lived until his death.
From his youth in Prairie du Chien through his years at Seattle University, Bill showed himself to be a natural leader with a keen intellect. These qualities contributed to his skill as an orator (he was a champion debater at Campion), while his outspokenness helped him transform Seattle University. This Midwest native came to identify Seattle as his home, and Seattle considered him one of its own. His presidential pastimes of sailing and crew earned him the reputation as a saltwater buff. Following his return to the Midwest Province, many loyal and dedicated friends from his adopted hometown kept contact with him.