“Advocate for the poor” – This is how the  New York Times fittingly describes Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan, whose work on behalf of the poor and downtrodden for Catholic Charities in Brooklyn and Queens earned him national recognition, died on Friday as a result of injuries from a car accident. He was 83.

In 1980, when Pope John Paul II named him an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Brooklyn, he said his mission was to serve “the hurting people of society.”

He was always very supportive of the Vincentians who ministered in the Eastern Province.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio reflects on Bishop Sullivan:

Sullivan DioceseRetired Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, the Most Reverend Joseph M. Sullivan, died June 7, 2013, after a May 30th car accident on the Long Island Expressway in Syosset, New York. Bishop Sullivan was critically injured in the three-car collision and was immediately airlifted to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, New York. He died from injuries sustained from the impact.

“We mourn the passing of Bishop Joseph Sullivan,” said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio. “During his tenure, Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens became a nationally recognized provider of social services. Even in retirement, Bishop Joe continued to serve on many boards for Catholic hospitals and health institutions. He epitomized the best of our Church’s teaching and the fundamental option for the poor. He was an outstanding priest.”

Excerpts from the New York Times …

In addition to his work with Catholic Charities, Bishop Sullivan played an instrumental role in the formation of St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Centers and served as chairman of the Social Development and World Peace Department of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

His work often brought him in touch with the city’s most frail, neglected and impoverished citizens, and for more than five decades he was an advocate on their behalf.

In the late 1980s, as whole neighborhoods were being ravaged by AIDS, drug abuse and crime, Bishop Sullivan went to Washington to testify before Congress about the plight many people were facing.

“In the parishes where we used to have only the old people, where we used to bury the old people,” Bishop Sullivan said, “we’re burying young men.”

In 1948, after graduating from St. Michael’s Diocesan High School, he spent a season playing minor league baseball with the Americus Phillies in Georgia. In an interview with The New York Times in 1999, he recalled traveling across the South in a beaten-up bus.

By 1968, he had become the executive director for Catholic Charities in Brooklyn and Queens. Under his leadership, that organization would become the largest Roman Catholic human-services agency in the country, covering America’s fifth most-populous diocese.

In the 1999 interview with The Times, he said he could not imagine a better life. “I really think of this job as heaven on the way to heaven,” he said. “It doesn’t come at the end. It begins here.”