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Father Don Sullivan and The God Business

“Father Don” as he was widely known was a true Key West icon. He “got away,” as he used to put it, peacefully in his home on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013. The Vicar of St Peter’s, he was a kind and maverick soul.

We choose to best remember him with this Chris Schultz interview for Cool Key West some years ago. Wherever Father Don is now, we hope he it is as least as good for him has Key West was. RIP Father Don. He will be missed.

Q: How do you like being “semi-retired”?
A: Well, right now I’m looking over looking over St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Key West and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church as well, but that ends in June.

Q: How long have you lived in Key West and where did you live before here?
A: I’ve been here a year and a half. I came here all the way from Miami. I lived there for seven years. Originally, I am from California and spent half of my life in New York. [But] I am staying in Key West for the duration.

Q: After a year and a half in Key West, what do you think?
A: Well, somebody asked me when I was going to leave and I said you’d have to carry me out of here in a box. I’m not going anywhere.

Q: How long have you been a priest?
A: Twenty-two years or so. I was a Franciscan friar before that. I have been in the God business for thirty-five to thirty-eight years

Q: Have you always been openly gay?
A: Pretty much, yeah. I don’t run around with a rainbow flag. It’s just easier for everybody you’re involved with to know who you are.

Q: Did you ever find it to be difficult to be out and be a leader of a church?
A: I don’t stand up at the pulpit and talk about it, but you don’t need much of an imagination to figure out that I am. [laughs]

Q: What do you find to be the most rewarding part of working for God?
A: I get to know people in situations that you would not otherwise I enjoy being able to help. Sometimes you can’t, and that’s hard.

Q: Do find it anymore challenging to be a priest in Key West?
A: No more so than any place else. People are people.

Q: What do you like to do when you are not being a priest?
A:I spend a great deal of time on my front porch. Which has an extraordinary run of traffic all day and all night. People stop and talk about problems or whatever.

Q: What is one of the most out-of-the-box things you have done as a priest in Key West?
A: We did the Church of Love party with Techno DJ Peter Worth. It started at 2am on a full-moon Saturday night. I had great fun. I started as a proper looking Anglican priest with a black cask and a white surplus and a black tippet. I looked ominously British. I started with a brief five-minute snippet and the next time I came out with Peter’s fabulous music to talk, I did “a strip”: I tossed off the tippet, the surplus and the black dress, and was wearing something [street clothes] underneath and I was still wearing a clerical collar. I continued to talk about God and love and what that means.

The really great thing was between my little segments were to go out in the audience and have people telling me how fabulous it was. To have really reaffirming conversations about God at 3 or 4 in the morning was really something special. After it was over, I took a short nap celebrated mass at 10am at St. Peter’s.

Q: It must have been interesting to discuss God and religion at a place and time that isn’t known for that?
A: People under 40 don’t really mind having conversations like that. Older people think there is something wrong with that. I had the time of my life and I am ready to do it again.

Q: If you were to choose another job outside of working for God what would it be?
A: I would restore old Victorian houses. That’s what I used to do and I was pretty good at it. It’s great fun! You can’t buy anything off the shelf; you have to make it all. It’s very rewarding.

Q: What is your favorite movie?
A: One of my favorites is 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I saw in various states of consciousness over the years.

Q: Any books that you enjoy?
A: My favorite author is Tony Hillerman.

Q: What is you favorite animal?
A: Dogs. They are absolutely committed to their masters. They don’t care what you do or when you do it.

Q: I pray a lot when I drink too much and I end up on my bathroom floor clutching the toilet. I promise never to drink again, but I always do. Why is that?
A: That sounds like a song. One of the nice things about approaching seventy-seven years old is I cant drink as much as a used to, so I am not confronted with that problem of “Oh God why did I do that?”

Q: Any other parting words to our readers?
A: Come and join the party!

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