Graham begin process, seeking exhumation of Sullivan's remains
An inquiry has begun about how to go about exhuming the remains of Father Thomas from his grave in Tewksbury, Massachusetts.
Jim Graham has been in contact with a pair of Boston attorneys to figure how this might be done so he can obtain a DNA sample for a paternity test.
Graham has long contended that Father Sullivan, a priest with the Oblate order assigned to Buffalo in the mid-1940’s, is his biological father. That assertion is accepted as fact by a number of Graham family members, but Graham so far only has a circumstantial case to establish it.
He has collected an impressive pile of old documents. Together that strongly suggest Sullivan may be his father. But now, Graham would like certainty in hopes of getting something from the Catholic Church that he’s wanted for many years, an admission that Sullivan fathered him.
Graham has also made contact with local officials on the health board in the town of Tewskbury, Massachusetts. It’s there were father Sullivan’s grave is at the Oblate Fathers cemetery. State law places jurisdiction with local government when it comes to matters of exhuming bodies.
A possible hurdle for Graham is the Oblate order. It is not known whether they would seek to block Graham’s exhumation request. 2 On-Your-Side did pose the question to the leader of the Oblates in the US, Father Louis Studer.
A spokesman for Father Studer left this voicemail on Saturday, “The best I can tell you is that Father Studer will be making no public statement about the proposed exhumation and will have no further comment on this matter.”
2 On-Your-Side also spoke with the director of the Tewksbury Health Department, Susan Sawyer, who said she was not sure whether her office had an established procedure for exhumation.
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."
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