He was ordained as a priest for the Diocese of Richmond in 1953 and received a degree in Canon law from Catholic University in 1960.
In 1970, Sullivan was ordained as auxiliary bishop for the Richmond diocese; four years later, he was installed as bishop.
Sullivan took mandatory retirement in 2003 at the age of 75.
The Diocese of Richmond is one of the oldest in the country, established in 1820 from part of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The diocese is home to 220,000 Catholics, and stretches from Virginia’s Eastern Shore to Cumberland Gap on the Tennessee and Kentucky borders, a distance of 535 miles.