John Robert’s Irish Wife

Jane Sullivan Roberts with her children, Jack and Josie.

Tom Deignan, Contributor
October / November 2005

It was a long, hot summer for Jane Sullivan.

Sullivan, the wife of President Bush’s Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, was thrust into the headlines because of her devout Catholic faith. It was a faith nurtured in a New York Irish enclave.

In the early 1970s, Jane Sullivan attended St. Catherine’s Academy in the Morris Park section of the Bronx, then a largely Irish and Italian neighborhood.

Jane was the oldest of four children, the daughter of a technician for the U.S. Postal Service. Her mother worked as a medical secretary.

The family’s ties to Ireland are strong; an uncle still lives in Charleville, County Cork, and the family purchased a home in nearby Knocklong, Limerick, where members of the clan try to meet at least every two years.

Sullivan went on to become a highly successful lawyer and marry fellow lawyer John Roberts in 1996. The two have since adopted two children.

As The New York Times put it in a recent profile, Jane Sullivan’s “Catholic faith has long played a central role in her life.” Her husband is said to be equally devout.

Sullivan “joined the first class of women to enter the College of the Holy Cross, in Worcester, Mass., where she attended Mass several times a week, tutored football players in mathematics, her major, and carved a path as a student leader,” the Times continued. “A budding feminist even with her traditionalist streak, she was one of four students who represented the student body in a heated dispute when the feminist scholar Marilyn French, who taught at the college from 1972 to 1976, was denied tenure.”

Eyebrows were raised over the summer when it was revealed that Sullivan once served on the board of a group called Feminists for Life. The group attempts to do the seemingly impossible: bring together the fight for women’s rights while also opposing abortion.

“Abortion is a reflection that our society has failed to meet the needs of women,” is one motto Feminists for Life has used. “Women deserve better than abortion.”

Will Sullivan’s devout Catholicism affect her husband’s confirmation? For now, politicians on both sides of the aisle are saying it won’t.

Even liberal stalwart (and Sullivan’s fellow Irish-American) Ted Kennedy was quoted as saying that Sullivan’s religion as well as her legal work, should have nothing to do with Roberts’ confirmation.

“I think [she] ought to be out of bounds,” Kennedy said to reporters ♦

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