SENECA SC — Jim Graham had hit a dead-end.
For 25-years, he’d been working on his own genealogy. The project began with a secret revealed to him in 1993 by an aunt and uncle.
Graham was told his biological father may be a priest. All he had to start reassembling the puzzle that was now his life, was a faded newspaper obit of Father Thomas Sullivan.
So, he went to work.
Graham unearthed documents of his mother, Helen, running off to New York City with him as an infant. More papers surfaced showing how Helen’s husband, John Graham, had employed private detectives to track her down. Still more documents show how Father Sullivan was banished to northern New York for years.
It is an impressive collection, but it is just a circumstantial paternity case. No direct evidence.
Graham turned to Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley. Could the Cardinal push the Oblate Order in the US to recognize Graham was the child of one of their priests?
The American leader of the Oblates, Father Louis Studer, refused citing insufficient evidence.
Graham says in a phone call, Studer seemed almost amused that Graham could be so persistent without more proof.
“He was almost laughing,” described Graham.
That’s when he decided to ask for an exhumation of Father Sullivan’s remains.
In February, Graham wrote Studer a letter making a formal request. It reads in part, “With your permission, we can bring closure to my 25-year quest for the truth with just a DNA sample.”
In a return letter, a surprising answer: permission granted.
“(T)he Oblates do not intend to oppose your proposal to exhume the remains of Father Sullivan for the purposes of DNA analysis.”
There are conditions. Graham must pay for the exhumation and the testing. He’s also responsible for returning the cemetery grounds to their original condition. All necessary state and local government permits must be obtained.
Graham has been at work on arrangements. In a Skype conversation this morning, he did not mention if he had picked a day yet.
“I didn’t think they would come back and give me approval. I thought for sure they would turn me down. It was totally a surprise,” said Graham.
From his home in Seneca, South Carolina, has been chasing down the requirements including finding a company that will conduct the DNA comparisons. It’s kept the semi-retired Graham pretty busy.
“I’m gonna see this thing through to the end no matter what I have to do,” says Graham.
Then, after a brief pause, he continued, “I think it hit me pretty hard that we’d be doing it.”