PAOLA — It didn’t take long for Holy Trinity Catholic Church members to fall in love with the Rev. Peter O’Sullivan after he became the congregation’s priest in the summer of 2015.
They loved his short but relatable homilies. They loved his sense of humor. They loved his dedication to helping others. They loved his passion for children. And they loved to listen to his stories.
When it came to telling stories, O’Sullivan had no shortage of material. After all, most priests aren’t ex-Marines or collegiate star athletes.
When O’Sullivan announced earlier this summer that he had been diagnosed with head and neck cancer, congregation members hoped he would quickly win the battle and it would become just one more story to tell.
Following surgery, radiation and chemotherapy treatments, though, O’Sullivan’s condition began to worsen, and he lost his battle on Oct. 9 at the age of 65.
“He was amazing, and he was such a dear friend to us,” said Jenny Latendresse.
Jenny and her husband Ron would often have dinner with O’Sullivan, and they even drove him to some of his cancer treatments.
“It’s hard to imagine that we won’t talk to him or see him again,” Jenny said.
Mary Beth Guy said O’Sullivan was dedicated to visiting the sick and homebound, and he loved working with teens and Holy Trinity School children.
“He really lived his life to help others,” Guy said. “And he always had a smile.”
During his time as priest at Holy Trinity, O’Sullivan helped oversee the fundraising, design and construction of the church’s new parish center. Guy said O’Sullivan played a critical role in turning the building addition into a reality.
When the pandemic first struck last year and people couldn’t physically attend church, many became familiar with O’Sullivan thanks to video recordings of Mass done by Paul Michael Davis and his team at McTV Live.
“He was such a strong devout Catholic,” Davis said. “Everyone loved him.”
Bob Gregory went with O’Sullivan to visit a group of nuns in Mexico, and he said O’Sullivan made sure to make time to visit the school near the convent and talk with the children.
Gregory and several other congregation members said they’ll miss O’Sullivan’s traditional Christmas gift this year. Gregory said O’Sullivan would always travel across the state line to a liquor store in Missouri and buy two cases of O’Sullivan’s to hand out to friends. O’Sullivan’s is an Irish cream liqueur similar to Bailey’s.
O’Sullivan was a true Irish Catholic, and he even visited Ireland on a family trip to see where his grandfather was born, according to his obituary.
Holy Trinity secretary Rexanne Laudan said she loved working with O’Sullivan because he was very laid back and friendly.
“He loved celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, and he’d bring traditional Irish food over to our house,” Laudan said.
O’Sullivan also loved sports, and Laudan said he would even come with them to Emporia to watch her daughter play basketball there. Because he had previously preached in Emporia, O’Sullivan was typically swarmed by people wanting to talk to him when he arrived, Laudan said.
O’Sullivan was a former athlete himself. He received a football scholarship to Washburn University where he played until an injury his junior year. In high school he played for St. Joseph High School of Shawnee, the precursor to Saint Thomas Aquinas.
Bill Hauldren of Paola said he was a senior in 1973, and he remembers playing St. Joseph of Shawnee in football. Hauldren and O’Sullivan became friends after the priest came to Holy Trinity, and after talking about the past they realized they both played across from each other in that football game.
Hauldren said he and O’Sullivan played golf together and he will miss listening to his stories.
After college, O’Sullivan went to the U.S. Marine Corps in Quantico, Va., where he found his calling while attending Mass every day at 6 a.m. He attended St. Louis University, where he received a master’s degree in theology.
O’Sullivan was ordained at St. Joseph Church in Shawnee on June 4, 1983. He served as a deacon at Annunciation Catholic Church in Frankfort, Kan. His first 10 years as a priest he also taught at the local Catholic high schools where he served. His first parish was Christ the King, in Kansas City, Kan., where he taught at Bishop Ward High School for three years. From there, he went to Topeka at Christ the King and St. Joseph parishes. While in Topeka, he taught at Hayden Catholic High School for four years. Next, he was pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Nortonville and Immaculate Conception in Valley Falls while teaching at Maur Hill Academy for three years. Next, he was sent to St. Pius in Mission and then to Emporia, where he served both Sacred Heart and St. Catherine’s Parishes and helped both with new buildings. He returned to Topeka at Christ the King and then was reassigned to Queen of the Holy Rosary in Overland Park. Holy Trinity parish in Paola was his most recent appointment.
Laudan said the Rev. Joseph Sellas will be Holy Trinity’s new priest, and he likely will serve until next July, when the archdiocese typically makes official priest appointments.