PAXTON, MASSACHUSETTS — It was the first day of classes at Anna Maria College. It’s a small Catholic school in the hills of central Massachusetts.
It’s here Jim Graham came to learn some test results.
Two months earlier, he sat near the grave of Father Thomas Sullivan to watch the exhumation of the remains of an Oblate order priest. Graham had gotten unprecedented permission to dig up Sullivan’s body to obtain tissue samples for a DNA paternity test.
For a quarter century, Graham has spent thousands of dollars and untolled hours gathering documents which tell a convincing story, that the priest Graham never met is his biological father. But all of the evidence is admittedly circumstantial which bothered Graham.
“When I tell my story, there’s always some hesitation because we didn’t have it validated. Some people could question if he was really my father,” he explained.
DNA testing could erase all doubt. So, tissue samples from Father Sullivan and a swab of Graham’s inner cheek were sent to Bode Cellmark Forensics in Lorton, Virginia.
The results were sent to Dr. Ann Marie Mires, a forensic examiner and teacher at the college. She was the person who climbed into Sullivan’s grave to collect the tissue samples.
In the basement of the college library, Dr. Mires sat down with Graham to explain the paternity test outcome with reporters and cameras watching.
Mires began, “You’ve driven all the way from South Carolina to find out whether Father Thomas Sullivan is your father, and I’m here to tell you that he is.”
The normally poker-faced Graham holds back tears and then leans forward to embrace Dr. Mires.
“I don’t think I’ve ever hugged a doctor before. Thank you,” says Graham.
Over the next several minutes, Mires explains the science. Based on the results, the certainty of Father Sullivan being Graham’s parent is 99.99999%.
“This is basically irrefutable,” says Mires.
Graham has it, proof in the form of scientific certainty. He says it’s for others because in his heart he’s known the truth for 25 years.
“The Catholic Church all along, they knew who I am and they all know I’m his son. I look just like him so it’s, it’s bitter-sweet.”
As Graham continues, he struggles to contain his emotions, “It’s not really the…”
He swallows hard a couple of times and continues, “…ending I was looking for because I didn’t think we’d have to go through what we’re going through. My father’s speaking today to all of us through his D-N-A.”
The DNA test results may speak loudest to Father Louis Studer, leader of the Oblate Order in the US.
Studer has previously refused to concede Sullivan fathered Graham. In fact, Graham says in a phone call earlier this year, Studer told him it was an allegation without proof.
Now, with proof in hand, will Graham again ask Father Studer to publicly admit one of its priests is Graham’s father?
He dismisses the idea, “No. He’s gonna read about it. I don’t think I have to go back to him. He’s not an individual I really look forward to talking to again.”
Instead, Graham plans to write a book about his search for answers and proof about who is father really was and the obstacles he says Catholic priests and officials erected along the way. And he hopes his story will inspire other children of priests to seek answers about who their fathers are.