BRISTOL – Teallia Sullivan has won awards as a competitive rifle shooter, a pastime her father introduced her and her sister Emily to when they were young. Now her sights are set a little higher. She’s aiming to convert Ireland – again.
"I really, really enjoy rifle shooting, but theology won out," she said.
Ireland, of course, was first converted by Saint Patrick more than 15 centuries ago. But in recent years, sexual scandals and a growing secularism have shaken the faith of thousands of Catholics in Ireland. Miss Sullivan wants to help drive the snake of apathy and secularism out of that country.
Her first mission to Ireland, during her just-completed sophomore year at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, was only for a week. "The basis of that mission was pub evangelization," she said. "We were going to – for lack of a better way to say it – the darkest places of Ireland to bring in the light of Christ."
That brief visit was arranged and carried out by 10 Franciscan University students who were en route to the university’s Gaming, Austria, campus for a year of study abroad. Before the semester began, they took a quick detour to Ireland. "So we spent every night in the pubs, just talking to the people about Christ and everything like that. It was all student-driven and student-led, and we just did it," she said.
The experience opened her eyes – and her heart.
"I could just see the intense need of the Irish people for God, because they’re searching so intensely and looking in all the wrong places because of the guilt and shame from all the scandal. Those wounds still are very fresh among the people," she said.
But deep within the Irish people was a warmth that made it hard for her to leave when the week was over – a warmth and friendliness that has called her back.
"The Irish will sit and listen to you talk for hours, as long as you give them the same courtesy and you listen to their standpoint," she said. "I knew that my heart wouldn’t be settled until I’d spent more time there ministering to these people that were in such great need and I loved so dearly."
She contacted the National Evangelization Team (NET), which she remembered from its visits to St. Paul Catholic High School in Bristol and to Franciscan University. She knew that NET had an active ministry in Ireland, among other countries, with volunteer missionaries all under age 30.
"The whole thing about NET is that the Second Vatican Council says that the best way to reach the youth is through the youth," she said. "If you feel a call from God, you can apply to NET and they’ll interview you, so I was interviewed over Skype. They decided that I would be good for the mission and so they signed me."
She left for Ireland on Aug. 17, where she met up with 19 other young missionaries. After about five weeks of training in County Donegal, they will either spread out across Ireland or become based in a parish.
But becoming a missionary was never in Miss Sullivan’s plans.
"What my original plans for this fall were, it wasn’t Ireland, it was to enter a religious community so I could really just dedicate my life to serving the Lord," she said.
When she returns in May 2013, she hopes to enter the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady Mother of the Church, an order based in Baltic, in the Norwich Diocese. It is a teaching and nursing order, so the opportunity for overseas evangelization may never present itself again, she said.
What brought about such a passion to evangelize in the first place?
"It starts off with a passion for the Lord, and, in loving him and growing in my spiritual life to know who he is, I also have a passion to serve him and dedicate my entire life to serve him," she said.
Miss Sullivan has committed to raising $6,000 to help defray her expenses in Ireland. To help out, e-mail Miss Sullivan at email@example.com and request a pledge card.