Body of Catholic priest is exhumed to establish whether he fathered a child 72 years ago

A man’s 25-year quest for the truth about his family has led him to a small Catholic cemetery in Massachusetts, where a priest he believes was his biological father was laid to rest in 1993.

That same year, Jim Graham learned from his relatives that his birth father may have been the now-deceased Father Thomas Sullivan.

Graham spent the next two decades gathering dozens of pages of documents and building a case supporting the theory of Sullivan’s paternity, including adoption papers, his late mother’s divorce records and leaked church documents.


Uncanny likeness: Jim Graham, 72 (right), is convinced that the late Father Thomas Sullivan (left) was his biological father 

Bring up the body: On Monday, Graham had Sullivan's body exhumed from Tewksbury, Massachusetts, cemetery for the purpose of DNA testing 

Bring up the body: On Monday, Graham had Sullivan’s body exhumed from Tewksbury, Massachusetts, cemetery for the purpose of DNA testing 

The 72-year-old resident of South Carolina has repeatedly appealed for help to Father Sullivan’s old religions order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and went all the way up to Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, but with unsatisfactory results.

Then in March of this year, Graham was shocked to receive a letter from the Oblates’ Washington, DC, office giving the green light to exhume Father Sullivan’s body from the Tewksbury, Massachusetts, cemetery in order to obtain a DNA sample for testing, reported the station WGRZ.

Graham was granted permission to dig up the priest’s remains under the condition that he pay for the project himself and then return the burial plot to the it was.

Armed with a permit from the City of Tewksbury and a backhoe, on Monday Graham arrived at the burial ground in the company of a forensic anthropologist tasked with collecting a sample from the deceased priest’s femur.

Since Sullivan’s body was well-preserved, anthropologist Anna Marie Mires was able to extract three different samples with the help of a drill bit.

Sullivan’s DNA matter will be camped to Graham’s sample and analyzed by a lab in Virginia called Bode Cellmark Forensics. The results are expected to be available in a month.

Graham said the total cost of the project, including the exhumation and the testing, will set him back more than $10,000.

Building a case: Graham had spent 25 years gathering documents proving that the late cleric was his biological father 

Building a case: Graham had spent 25 years gathering documents proving that the late cleric was his biological father 

Graham stressed that it was never his intention to dig up Sullivan’s body: all he wanted was for the Oblates to confirm and acknowledge that the late priest was his birth father.

The religious order has maintained that they do not have the information that Graham has been seeking in their archives, but the man doubts the veracity of that claim, based on the reams of documents he has gathered over the years about Father Sullivan.

Thomas Sullivan was born in 1908, grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts and graduated from Boston College before joining the Oblates.

Jim Graham was born in the family of Helen and John Graham in the first years of World War II, but documents indicate that his mother’s husband was not his biological father.

Jim grew up in Buffalo, New York, where Father Sullivan served as a priest around the same time.

According to church documents that Jim obtained from a cleric friendly to his cause, there is a strong indication that Father Sullivan ran off to New York City with his mother Helen when he was a baby.

During their alleged sojourn in Manhattan, Helen went to an adoption agency seeking day care services. Old record from that agency listed Jim as an out-of-wedlock child and mentioned a sympatric ‘alleged father’ living nearby.

Seeking a confession: Graham wants Sullivan’s religious order, the Oblates, to publicly acknowledge his paternity 

But if the documents collected by Jim Graham are to be believed, his biological parents’ hope to start a new life together with their son in New York City were dashed when private detectives hired by his adoptive father barged into their apartment and busted the lovers.

John Graham later used the evidence gathered by the detectives to divorce Helen and gain full custody of Jim.

Sullivan eventually re-joined the order of the Oblates as a penitent priest, performing menial labor and translating religious texts, according to The Boston Globe, which first reported on Jim Graham’s case.

After 16 years, Sullivan was rehabilitated. He eventually returned to Tewksbury, where he died of cancer in 1993.

Not long after Sullivan’s passing, Jim Graham began investigating his geneology and interviewing people who knew the late priest, including other clerics.

He called on the leaders of the Oblates order in Rome, asking them to acknowledge Sullivan’s paternity, and reached out to both Cardinal O’Malley and the head of the Oblates in the United States.

His quarter-century campaign culminated with Monday’s exhumation, but Graham says if the test confirm his paternity, the next step would be for church officials to publicly admit that Sullivan was his father and that he was forcibly separated from his mother.