One of Key West's best known religious figures has passed on to his great reward.
Father Donald "Don" Sullivan, of St. Peter's Episcopal Church, was found dead in his bed at the church vicarage, located across Center Street from the downtown church, shortly before he was scheduled to preach at the 10 a.m. Mass. He was with the church for about five and a half years.
Sullivan was 75.
Few details regarding the cause of death, or funeral services were available at press time, but those close to Sullivan say he had been in ill health for some time, and had been scheduled to undergo some kind of aortic operation in Miami, according to colleagues. Sullivan's will asks that he be cremated.
"To me, he kind of personified the parish vicar," said Father Larry Hooper, the priest-in-charge of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, where Sullivan occasionally filled in during mid-week services. "He had a front porch ministry there, and he was known to everybody and anybody who walked by. That was his office. Most of the times that I walked or drove by, he was there. With his passing, many people will be bereft of his presence."
Sullivan's death passes leadership of the church temporarily to Deacon Sarah Fowler, whose acquaintance with Sullivan dates back to before the priest was assigned to the Key West congregation.
"When I met him, he was at a church in Cutler Ridge," Fowler said. "At the time I was trying to become a deacon. He was very knowledgeable and helpful. After he came to Key West, we took something away from him every day. He was a dedicated person to the care and needs of all people, no matter what their walk of life."
Church Sexton Rick Worth credits Sullivan with restoring the church to financial and spiritual health, following a period of stagnation.
"I've been the caretaker here for over 19 years and I've seen the preachers come and go and seen what changes happened or didn't happen," Worth said. "What I noticed about Father is that he brought some light back into the church. We had the same congregation, but his personality changed us. At one time, we were barely able to make our payments. He got things repainted and fixed, and we started becoming a real church. He educated us on being Anglican."
Congregant and friend Jeffrey Dunaway often dropped by Sullivan's porch for chats, and on Monday remembered Sullivan as an interesting and erudite man, who had lived a "rich" life.
"He was born in Bakersfield, Calif., and grew up there and on Balboa Island," Dunaway said. "His first job was working for Disneyland, doing a voiceover for a ride. He also worked as a radio announcer, and a contractor. He served in the Navy for a while. And he was a Franciscan friar for about 20 years, before he was ordained as a priest, about 25 years ago."
Sullivan's career with the Episcopalian Church landed him priesthoods in New York City and Trinidad, Dunaway added.
It was in Key West though, that Sullivan finally felt truly at home, Fowler said.
"He really loved it here," she said. "He once told me that the only way he was ever leaving Key West was feet first. I guess he got his wish."