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Associated Press

FARGO - Roman Catholic Emeritus Bishop James Sullivan, forced to retire in 2002 because of Alzheimer's disease, now ministers with a pat on the shoulder and a gentle glance.

Members of the Catholic Diocese of Fargo helped Sullivan, 75, mark his 50th year in the ministry over the weekend.

"It's a tender, peaceful ministry," said the Rev. Jeffrey Wald, who has lived with the bishop for the past three years. "But he still shines with the example of Christ."

The man who became the diocese's sixth bishop in 1985 was ordained in the Diocese of Lansing, Mich.

Sullivan never believed priests should retire, Wald said. Doing so was nearly impossible for a man who surrendered his life to the Catholic Church.

While bishop of the Diocese of Fargo, Sullivan most clearly left his legacy in the area of recruiting other priests. When dioceses across the nation struggled to replace those who retired, Sullivan made recruiting young men to the seminary a priority.

Besides marking his anniversary Friday, Sullivan attended the ordination of five men into the priesthood.

"In his service he has strived to reveal the love of Christ to others," said Bishop Samuel Aquila, Sullivan's successor, who also is serving as interim administrator for the Sioux Falls Catholic Diocese. "In many quiet ways, he has touched so many."

Alzheimer's took Sullivan's sense of time and speech, although hints of the subtle humor that once marked his conversations surface in occasional bouts of laughter.

Wald said people should learn from Sullivan.

"It's about somebody being true to his promise for 50 years," Wald said. "It's good for us to say thank you to God for the bishop's service and to recommit ourselves to our own promises."

Sullivan, who will be 76 in July, spends his days at an adult day care center, where residents request his blessing, said Renee Johnson, who coordinates the schedules of his caretakers.

"They feel the touch of God when he walks into the room," she said. "It's amazing to watch. It shows we're the instruments and God's doing the work."

Sullivan always wanted to be a priest, said his sister Rosemary Barnum. He entered seminary as a high school freshman. As children, he and his younger sisters often played Mass over a piano bench laden with crackers and juice.

Now Sullivan's faith has returned to that childlike state, Wald said. He receives Holy Communion and someone prays with him daily. He will pray the rosary when prompted.

"He inspires me still today," Wald said.